SPARTA, Ky. (AP) — Kyle Busch set a track record to earn his first Kentucky Speedway pole before thunderstorms shortened NASCAR Cup Series qualifying on Friday.
Busch, a two-time winner of Saturday night’s 400-mile race, clocked 190.282 mph in the No. 18 Toyota for his third pole this season and 22nd of his career. Third in points, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver seeks his first Cup victory since last summer at Indianapolis.
Martin Truex Jr. will start second with Busch’s JGR teammate Matt Kenseth third as Toyotas claimed four of the top five spots in the 40-car field. Jamie McMurray (189.713) starts fourth in a Chevy with JGR’s Denny Hamlin (189.687) next.
The pole was the second of two Busch claimed on Friday; he also earned the top spot for the Xfinity Series race.
Busch was preparing for the third and final round of qualifying before NASCAR officials abruptly cancelled the segment and postponed the Xfinity Series race to Saturday at noon because of the threatening weather system. He smiled as he climbed out of his car to a suddenly-free evening, rest that will certainly be needed to handle a double-duty Saturday for the second weekend in a row.
The good news is he’ll have a prime starting spot for both events in the latest chapter of his Kentucky dominance.
“The guys have done an amazing job this year at building faster race cars as we’ve gone on this year,” Busch said of his JGR team. “We started out a little behind. Just right there, so close having an opportunity to win each and every week, we just need to bust through and get it to happen.”
Contrasting Kyle Busch’s good day was one that series points leader Kyle Larson would like to forget.
After having one of the fastest cars during both rounds of practice, Larson didn’t get to prove it in qualifying after his No. 42 Chevy failed inspection. He didn’t know what the issue was and is left to prepare to start last in 40th.
“We will be fine from the back,” Larson said. “Obviously, it will be hard to pass, but we also thought the same thing at Texas and we didn’t get to qualify there and I cruised right to the front no problem. So, we will see.”
Other qualifying notes from Kentucky:
FORD’S FOURSOME: Ford placed four cars in the top 11 with Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick starting sixth and seventh respectively while defending race winner Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer are 10-11.
Though Keselowski’s spot is his lowest in seven starts, the three-time Kentucky winner gained his first win here from the eighth position in 2012. That might provide some hope after an effort he felt could have been better.
“It was just OK today, Keselowski said. “We really worked hard to get the most we could out of it. The guys did a nice job chasing it but we just needed some more. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to get that last round in.”
BETTER THAN EXPECTED
Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 13th for his final Kentucky start and seemed fine with that after struggling early on.
“I didn’t anticipate doing well,” he said. “But they worked on the car and they made a lot of adjustments, and we kept going out there and making runs and ended up in the top 15. So, I’m pretty happy with that. We almost made it into the top 12 without even making a mock run in practice.”
The rain came fast and furious, flooding parts of the garage area with several inches of water.
One surprise casualty was the Toyota Camry pace car, which had water lapping at the bottom of the doors. A track media representative quickly moved the car to higher ground and suggested that it would be ready for Saturday night.
Crew members and spectators meanwhile waded through the area either by rolling up pants or just dealing with wet clothes.
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