LONG POND — Nick Sanchez took a big step in his bid to make the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series playoffs Friday at Pocono Raceway.
The 22-year-old rookie driver of the Rev Racing No. 2 Chevrolet captured the pole in qualifying for the CRC Brakleen 150. He covered the 2.5-mile triangular track in 53.265 seconds at 168.966 mph.
It is the fourth pole of the season and career for Sanchez.
Fellow rookie Jake Garcia qualified second at 168.306 mph. Grant Enfinger was third at 168.202 mph, Carson Hocevar fourth at 167.957 mph and Austin Hill fifth at 167.751 mph. The top five trucks are all Chevrolets.
This is the penultimate race of the Truck Series regular season. Sanchez is one of the drivers battling for the four remaining spots in the 10-driver playoff field over the final seven races. He is just two points above the cutoff line, so winning the pole helps give him some momentum in his quest to qualify for the postseason.
“The points situation is close, obviously a lot closer than I’d like. I’d like to have a win by now,” Sanchez said. “At this track, the restarts are crazy. But I have the best seat in the house and I can control the race. So in that regard, it’s a little bit easier in my position than say starting fifth or seventh and mired in traffic. All of those little things play into you having a lot easier of a day. It’s just about taking it and running with it and not making any mistakes and finishing where I start.”
Since a 30th-place finish at North Wilkesboro in May, Sanchez has been on a bit of a roll with top-10 finishes in the last four races. He placed ninth at Charlotte, eighth at Gateway, third at Nashville and ninth at Mid-Ohio to move himself in playoff contention.
“My team, I think, just brings some of the fastest trucks in the series,” Sanchez said. “We’re at the stage of the year where we are learning each other. Me and (crew chief) Danny (Stockman Jr.) are meshing well and really hitting it every week, really since Charlotte. We’ve been building off that and I think our qualifying results show.”
Sanchez got some assistance from Kyle Busch in winning the pole. Busch, one of three NASCAR Cup Series entered in the field and a two-time winner of the race at Pocono, had an issue during his lap and only qualified 12th at 166.503 mph.
“I paid attention to Kyle’s lap and where it went wrong for him into (turn) one,” Sanchez said. “He kind of made an audible that helped me and the 4 truck (Chase Purdy) get a better qualifying lap. So having someone like that in the field that we have a technical alliance with helped me a bunch. He made a call to make changes to my truck and I think that was one of the things that helped me get the pole.”
Other poles Sanchez has won this season came at Daytona, Texas and Nashville. However, he hasn’t been able to translate his qualifying performance over to race day. He finished 26th at Daytona and 16th at Texas.
He hopes to change that at Pocono.
“The races where we’ve gotten the pole, we started strong but faded a little bit in the middle. At Nashville, we came back at the end but obviously fell short,” Sanchez said. “So I’m taking what I learned from that and just trying to finish where I start. I think this is a track that doesn’t really go through many changes. The attributes are going to stay with you all race long no matter where the track condition goes. So I think I have that to my advantage. I just have to try to close it out. Just use all the things I’ve learned throughout the course of the year and get my first win.”
Garcia’s qualifying effort was his best of the season. He is 77 points below the cutoff line and likely needs to win at Pocono or next week at Richmond to make the playoffs.
As for other drivers in the hunt for a playoff berth, Matt DiBenedetto qualified eighth at 167.417 mph. He is five points above the cutline. Matt Crafton, who is one point above the cutline, qualified 25th at 164.006 mph. Stewart Friesen, who is one point below the cutline, qualified 16th at 165.798 mph. Taylor Gray, 24 points below the cutoff, qualified 11th at 166.482 mph.
Ty Majeski is 95 points above the cutline and that’s a good thing for him because he suffered a flat tire as he was about to make his qualifying attempt. He will start 34th.
“I felt it get soft on the entry to the tunnel,” Majeski said. “Thankfully, it didn’t blow it out, it just obviously cut it and was leaking air slowly, so I was able to not destroy the truck. It could have been a lot worse. It’s unfortunate, but we’ll have to come from the back tomorrow.
“We always preach about track position, but here more than most tracks it’s harder to come through the field here. Track position is everything, so hopefully we can hit the strategy right and find our way toward the front at the end.”
Besides Busch, other Cup Series regulars in the field are Christopher Bell and Ross Chastain. Bell qualified 14th at 166.279 mph and Chastain was 23rd at 164.884 mph.
The CRC Brakleen 150 is scheduled for Saturday at noon.