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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Erik Jones takes The Pole for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Playoff Opener

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LAS VEGAS – Before Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Erik Jones considered himself a sleeper entering the first race of the Playoffs.

That was before the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota announced his presence by winning the pole for Sunday’s opening postseason race, the South Point 400.

Jones toured the 1.5-mile intermediate speedway in 28.705 seconds (188.121 mph) to earn his first Busch Pole Award of the season and the second of his career by .003 seconds over Team Penske driver Joey Logano (188.101 mph).

“I knew we had a good car in practice, but I didn’t know if we’d get the pole,” Jones said. “The track kind of came to us, and I thought I knew what we needed to do adjustment-wise. We got the (car) where it needed to be and put together a really good lap.

“You can’t start them off any better than that. We have a long ways to go this weekend but we got the speed to do it… I feel like we’ve been kind of under the radar. We’ve been running really well, and we’ve just got to put it together for one really good race. I think we can do that. We’re one to watch.”

Jones’ JGR teammate, Denny Hamlin, qualified third at 187.624 mph, followed by Kyle Busch (187.402 mph) and Kevin Harvick (187.396 mph), as Playoff drivers claimed the top 11 starting positions. The only interloper to make the final round was Jamie McMurray, who ended up 12th after hard contact with the outside wall on his money lap.

With Playoff driver Brad Keselowski having won the last two races and Logano showing excellent speed in all three qualifying rounds, Logano said he was encouraged by his performance in time trials.

“I feel like the field’s pretty close, and I feel comfortable about my car,” Logano said. “I think the Penske cars are all fairly quick, and we’ll work on it some more (in Saturday’s practice).”

Penske teammate Ryan Blaney was sixth fastest in the final round. Keselowski will start 13th after failing to advance to the final round by .001 seconds. In addition to Keselowski, Playoff drivers who will start outside the top 12 are: Clint Bowyer (15th), Aric Almirola (16th), Jimmie Johnson (17th) and Austin Dillon (18th).

Playoff drivers Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson occupy the seventh through 11th positions on the starting grid, respectively. Truex and Kyle Busch each had to make two runs in Round 2 to bump their way into the final 12.