With changing track conditions impacting pole qualifying for the 69th running of the Pay Less Little 500 it was New Castle’s Caleb Armstrong claiming his second consecutive pole position.
During the practice session on Thursday following the morning rain, Armstrong turned a quick lap of 11.149-seconds, but when it came to qualifying he was only able to turn a best lap of 11.228-seconds around the high-banked quarter-mile oval.
Armstrong became the first driver to win consecutive pole positions since Dave Steele accomplished the feat in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
“The track was a little different for qualifying,” Armstrong said. “I was worried about going out too early, but it was the right decision. “A lot of guys waited too late,” he said.
After almost winning the 2016 race, Armstrong said he wants to pick up where he left off last year.
“Stay out of trouble and finish 500 laps,” he said.
Kyle Hamilton will start in the center of the front row with defending race winner Kody Swanson starting on the outside of the front row.
The fastest 15 drivers locked into Saturday’s Little 500 with “bump” day qualifying set for 1:30 p.m. today.
Tony Stewart posted the 18th fastest time of the day and Kenny Schrader turned the 21st best time of the day. Stewart’s Hoffman Racing team wrenched on the car looking for the right set-up, but he was never able to turn laps faster than 11.5 seconds.
Schrader found some speed late in the practice session but his four-lap average time was 11.6-seconds for the four-lap qualifying run.
Both drivers are not locked into Saturday’s 33-car starting field, but should make the field.
Hamilton turned the fastest lap of qualifying with a lap of 11.149-seconds.
Four former winners locked into the starting field led by Swanson. Two-time winner Jacob Wilson will start sixth, Chris Windom will roll off ninth and Shane Cottle qualified 14th .
Two-time winner Brian Tyler posted the 25th quick time during qualifications.
Teams struggled to get enough heat in the right rear tire to provide the needed grip coming off the corners.
Austin Nemire celebrated his 18th birthday by posting the fifth quick time of the qualifying and will start ahead of teammate and Little 500 veteran Aaron Pierce who qualified 17th.
“The track changed tremendously,” Nemire said. “This was different qualifying than I’ve ever done before with the four laps.
“The tires were cold by going out early,” he said.
Nemire was joined in the top 15 starting field by veteran driver CJ Leary, who will start fourth. Both drivers were the only two of nine rookies looking to make their first Little 500 starts.
Michigan veteran Jeff Bloom looking to make his 35th consecutive Little 500 start failed to make a qualifying attempt on Thursday.