Logano scores Cup pole for Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 (3 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN), recap with top 3 takeaways

Joey Logano led a Ford brigade up front in the second and final round of qualifying on an unseasonably cool Saturday morning just south of Atlanta. While temps barely got into the 40s, the Ford power warmed enough to give them a lockout of the top eight starting spots for Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 (3 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN).

That’s the first time since 1965 at Beltsville (Md.) that Fords have qualified for the top eight spots on the grid. Saturday’s result is even more impressive, given that no Chevrolets attempted to qualify for the Beltsville race, where Fords took positions one through 10.

Logano topped them all with a speed of 177.374 mph in his No. 22 Ford which was good enough for his 28th career NASCAR Cup Series pole tying him with Kurt Busch for 28th all-time. 2 of his 28 poles now have occurred at the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“I’ve never been on the front row at a superspeedway — forget a pole,” Logano said. “Doing it here at Atlanta for me is special. So many memories here. I lived up in one of those condos for five years and raced Legends cars out here for six years.

“Just the memories of walking into victory lane a minute ago to get the pole award and thinking about driving my Legend car in there, with my dad and how cool that was, and always dreaming about being on the big track when I was running the quarter-mile all the time…

“I guess I try to keep those thoughts up front in my mind.”

Logano will lead the field to green with this qualifying effort being his 5th top 10 starting spot in his last 6 Atlanta tries including 4 of his last 6 being third or better at that.

He also has familiar foes knocking on the door up front with Team Penske locking out those top three spots.

Logano’s pole-winning run was 0.006s faster than that of Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric (177.340 mph). Ryan Blaney qualified third at 177.215 mph, giving Penske the second 1-2-3 qualifying effort in the organization’s history.

Blaney scored his third consecutive top six starting spot in the Peachtree State.

Brad Keselowski (176.995 mph) and Aric Almirola (176.989 mph) rounded out the top five in a tricky session.

Can Ford’s Capitalize?

With having the top 8 starting spots, can Ford use the starting position to capitalize on what should be race winning potential? The thing is, qualifying is one thing, but racing is a whole different animal. The teams try to get as much drag out of these cars for qualifying, but with this being an impound race, you need downforce to succeed on Sunday.

That’s why qualifying doesn’t always correlate over to race winning success a day later.

Chevrolet has won 5 of the 6 races in the Next Gen era on drafting tracks. Ford won the 2022 Daytona 500 but has watched Chevy’s dominate after. Still, there’s some Ford drivers eyeing success and hopeful of using these qualifying spots for a good finish.

Austin Cindric is marred down in 14th in points after finishes of 23rd, 28th, 6th and 25th respectively this season. To be on the front row at the start is big for them.

Ryan Blaney was runner-up last week and eyeing an end to his 50 race winless drought.

Aric Almirola starts 5th but is 22nd in points entering this weekend. He’s finished 21st, 35th, 16th and 33rd respectively this year. The RFK Racing duo is looking for their second win since Brad Keselowski took over the team and with each making the final round qualifying 4th and 7th respectively, they’ve got a great shot at Dual Top 10’s at the very least on Sunday.

They were 1-2 in the closing laps at Daytona last month.

Where Are The Toyota’s?

We knew the Toyota’s could struggle this weekend but did we expect them to be this bad? Just one Toyota even made the final round of qualifying with them starting 10-14-16-19-29-35.

Christopher Bell spun in the final round of qualifying which is why he had no time in 10th. Rookie Ty Gibbs got into the wall on his early qualifying run which is why he was the slowest out of the drivers who qualified on Saturday morning. BJ McLeod also spun on his run as the first qualifier and didn’t post a speed.

For the Toyota’s, they’ve struggled in qualifying for much of this year.

Bell has been their top qualifier. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had a pair of poles at Talladega last year and was 5th last month in Daytona too. He’s qualified in the top 10 in all five tries now this season.

However, behind him, the other Toyota’s have struggled.

Truex rolls off 29th. He’s also qualified 16th, 14th, 15th and 13th so far respectively in 2023. Hamlin starts 14th. He’s qualified 18th, 13th, 12th and 2nd respectively in the other 4 races. With Gibbs in 35th, he’s started 33rd, 23rd, 4th and 14th this season too.

Bubba Wallace rolls off 19th. That’s exactly where he started last week in Phoenix. He was also 15th in Daytona, 18th in Fontana and 13th in Vegas. Tyler Reddick starts 16th which is his second best starting spot of the season. He was 26th in Daytona, 35th in Fontana, 34th in Vegas and 12th in Phoenix.

I wasn’t looking for much out of the Toyota camp anyways. They’ve won just twice in the Peachtree state and have failed to reach victory lane there since 2014. They’re 2-for-the-last-17 in Talladega and 1 for the last 8 at Daytona.

Tricky Track

This isn’t Pocono and certainly isn’t a triangle, but Atlanta joined Pocono in terms of being a tricky surface on Saturday. With the drafting package, it’s made qualifying here much more difficult than it is in Daytona and Talladega. Those tracks you have 2.5 and 2.66-mile respectively to qualify on. Here, it’s a full mile shorter. But, with the same package, you have to get the engine as wound up as you can early.

For Daytona and Talladega, you run the top of the banking on the initial lap then drop to the bottom. By making the track as big as possible, you can maximize your time of getting the engine up to full song. If you go the shorter way around, there’s not as much time to get the full potential out of the engine.

However, the track was dirty up top on Saturday and was treacherous. Get too high, you’d either spin or have to get off the throttle anyways which negated any advantage of running up high. So, early on in the opening round, the drivers tip toed going higher and higher on track.

Justin Haley finally was the first to get up to the top and as a result, went to the top of the board. Aric Almirola was the next. As each qualifier got braver and braver, more grip came in which resulted in a better opportunity for those that went late.

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