Chase Elliott leads Hendrick Motorsports front-row sweep in Watkins Glen qualifying

Chase Elliott will begin the defense of his first-career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win from the pole at Watkins Glen on Sunday in the at The Glen. He posted a 69.287-second/127.297 mph lap in the second round of qualifying on Saturday to claim his third pole of the season, but his first at The Glen.

“Qualifying well here is important, because the strategy is important, pitting these cars backwards,” Elliott said. "You need good pit selection and track position. This is a great result for our NAPA Chevy team.”

Elliott led a Hendrick Motorsports sweep of the top-two spots on the starting grid, as HMS teammate William Byron was second in the final round of qualifying.

NASCAR reverted back to a multi-round, multi-car qualifying format for Watkins Glen, the first road course since returning to a single-car qualifying format. Saturday’s format included a 25-minute round, followed by a 10-minute round for the 12 fastest cars from the opening round.

Elliott also was fastest in the opening round with a 69.602-second/126.720 mph lap.

A blown right-front tire for Erik Jones in the first 10 minutes of the opening round resulted in a lengthly red flag. Jones’ #20 Joe Gibbs Racing team was allowed to change the tire, giving Jones another shot at posting a qualifying time. On his second attempt, he wound up 14th, making him the only JGR driver not to advance to round two.

“I just missed my mark,” Jones said. “I just got in too hot and locked the right-front up enough that it blew it out. That’s not what you want to do. I kind of thought we were done, and I didn’t realize that the rule was that if you don’t complete a lap you get to come back in and change tires. We put another tire on it and the DeWalt Camry had good speed. I was just a little conservative on my lap, which I think you can probably understand why after the first time. Still, a good starting spot. It has more speed than that, so it’s frustrating in that way, but still nice that we’re starting off better than dead last where we thought we were going to be.”

Jones’ three teammates -- Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin -- advanced to the final round, though, and claimed positions within the first three rows of the starting grid. Busch and Truex swept row two starting spots with the third and fourth-fastest laps in the second round, and Hamlin qualified sixth.

"Qualified fourth, and we’ve been third or fourth here every year,” Truex said. "Still quite haven’t figured out how to get the front row, but worked hard on it, there, and worked hard all day. We had a decent practice. We lacked a little bit of speed, but felt like our car on the long runs was really good. Starting fourth I think is a good spot. You don’t have to start first; you just have to be near the front all day and, hopefully, do all those things right strategy-wise and the way cautions fall and all that. Got a good spot to start and see what we can do with it.”

The other top-five starting spot went to Kyle Larson.

“It was good,” Larson said of his qualifying attempt. "I feel like I’ve been running as good as I could today. Just off on speed compared to the #9 [Elliott] and the #18 [Busch]. We got closer, there, in qualifying and felt like I ran a good lap. I just gave up time in the carousel. I’ve got to work on that on my end. But it was a good effort for our McDonald’s team.”

Chevrolet and Toyota occupied the top-eight positions in the final round of qualifying. Aric Almirola was the highest-qualifying Ford driver in ninth.

Other drivers in the top-10 in qualifying included Kurt Busch in seventh, Jimmie Johnson in eighth and Brad Keselowski in 10th.

“It was an okay qualifying effort,” Keselowski said. “It wasn’t great, but we haven’t qualified very well here in the last few years, so it’s nice to be a little better.”