Start Fast: Qualifying Well on Bojangles' Pole Night Key to Winning Bank of America 500
Looking at Charlotte Motor Speedway, most observers would probably assume qualifying well on Bojangles' Pole Night isn't overly important to determining the race's final outcome. Yet a journey back through the annuals of NASCAR history at Charlotte Motor Speedway suggests that qualifying is not just important, but downright critical if one wants to wind up in Victory Lane when the checkered flag falls on the Bank of America 500.
Of the 113 points races run at Charlotte Motor Speedway, dating all the way back to June 1960, the winner has started in the top five a whopping 64 times. On 15 of those occasions, the winner also started from the pole.
In a nutshell: It pays to turn in a strong qualifying performance on Bojangles' Pole Night.
"I think starting up front is important at this track," said Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth, a two-time points race winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the fastest qualifier for this year's Coca-Cola 600. "It typically goes through a lot of changes here, especially if the sun is out for the beginning of the race. You want to have good track position, good pit selection - all those things - so if you get a little bit off and you're chasing the setup, or the track changes, you have a little bit of a buffer being toward the front, hopefully."
Starting near the front is easier said than done at a track where the slightest change in temperature can make a significant difference in where a driver stacks up at the conclusion of Bojangles' Pole Night.
Throw in the fact that qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway now consists of three knockout rounds - as opposed to the traditional single-car qualifying format that existed prior to 2014 - and the difficulty of laying down a good lap is increased even more.
"At the end of the day it's fun to go fast in any qualifying, but Charlotte's one of those tracks that still has a lot of grip, it starts to cool off in the evenings for the night qualifying, so you always have a chance to qualify around 190 or 195 mph, and that's just cool," said Michael Waltrip Racing driver David Ragan. "Charlotte, you can pass pretty well here. It is a multi-groove track. You can run the middle and run the top, so it's not the end of the world if you have to come from the back, but it sure is a lot more fun to qualify well and be fast on Bojangles' Pole Night."
Alan Gustafson, a veteran crew chief and the man calling the shots for the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet during Jeff Gordon's final race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, is among those who makes no bones about the challenges qualifying at Charlotte presents drivers and crew chiefs alike.
"Qualifying is interesting at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a couple reasons," Gustafson said. "One is you practice during the day. It's terrible practice. You can't have any worse practice; and then qualifying you've got to go out there at night and you don't know the grip level and it makes things very interesting. But it's fun, it's really a lot of fun, and with it being in all of our backyards in the Charlotte area, you always want to run well here and qualify well here. … You always want to start up front."
After winning the pole for last year's Bank of America 500, Kyle Busch revealed what he believed made the difference.
"It seemed like the guy that was the most consistent was able to win the pole," he said. "I think we had a .38 in Round One, then a .33 in Round Two and then a .36 in Round Three, so pretty good laps there. I felt pretty good about all of them and Dave (Rogers, 2014 crew chief) made some really good adjustments. You have to adjust on these things for these qualifying runs. The track changes just a little bit, but the car and the tires change, too."
The knockout qualifying format adds yet another wrinkle to the already tough task that is qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"We're all still learning what the best strategy is and when to go, when to cool your motor off and when to do all of this stuff," Team Penske driver Joey Logano said of knockout qualifying. "We have an idea of what we want to do. We've studied as much as we can, but every time we do this we've learned something that we might want to do differently next time."
Through Oct. 8 at participating company-operated Bojangles' restaurants in the Charlotte, Triad and Greenville-Spartanburg areas, customers who purchase any eight, 12 or 20-piece box or Tailgate Special will receive vouchers good for two free tickets to Bojangles' Pole Night. Fans who redeem the voucher on Pole Night will be entered to win a race weekend VIP package that includes a two suite tickets to the Drive for the Cure 300 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and the Bank of America 500. The winning fan will be announced during Bojangles' Pole Night and will be invited to celebrate with the pole winner in Victory Lane on Pole Night.
Fans can catch all the action surrounding the only Saturday night race in the Chase, including Bojangles' Pole Night on Oct. 8, the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive for the Cure 300 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina on Oct. 9 and the Bank of America 500 on Oct. 10 with weekend packages starting at just $99.