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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Ryan Blaney claimed the pole Friday night for the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Blaney earned his third career pole with a lap at 191.489 mph in his Team Penske Ford, easily outdistancing Kevin Harvick on a windy evening.
Blaney blazed through the final round of knockout qualifying for his first pole of the young season and his first since late last year in Phoenix. The 24-year-old is off to a solid start to the season with a seventh-place finish at Daytona, and he'll be in prime position in Vegas to record his second career victory.
"I thought our car was pretty good, but I didn't know if we had pole speed," Blaney said. "We made really good changes between practice and qualifying, and really good changes throughout qualifying. ... That's really all you can ask for. I think our team does such a good job of getting better round to round. That's so huge now with the three rounds. That's something we've been working really hard on for the last couple of years, and it's paying off."
Harvick kept up his outstanding start to the season and secured a front-row Ford lockout with a second-place finish in qualifying for Sunday's Pennzoil 400. The Stewart-Haas Racing stalwart earned his best starting position in 18 career races in Vegas by turning a lap at 190.248 mph.
Fords claimed the top three spots and five of the first eight. Las Vegas native Kurt Busch qualified right behind Harvick at 190.067 mph in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, while Martin Truex Jr. drove his Furniture Row Racing Toyota into fourth.
"Three Fords in the top three there, that's pretty cool," Blaney said.
Here are more things to know about qualifying at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
FORD IS FAST: For the second straight weeks, Fords locked down the top three spots in qualifying. Fords also excelled in the subsequent race in Atlanta, with Harvick cruising to victory. Fords will start in eight of the top 12 positions at Las Vegas after just three Ford drivers failed to reach the final round of qualifying.
SO CLOSE: Veterans Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch barely missed out on the final round of qualifying. Busch will start 13th in his hometown, while four-time Vegas champion Johnson will begin in 14th. Busch ran off after his laps to get ready to run in the Truck Series race shortly afterward Monster Energy Cup qualifying ended.
BACK IN VEGAS: Blaney finished third in qualifying last year on this 1 1/2-mile oval in the desert. "I like this place," Blaney said. "It's just a combination of everybody working hard, and it shows the speed we've had all weekend. It would be really nice to get a win this early in the season."
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