LONG POND, Pa. — Running his fastest lap of the day in the final round of Friday’s knockout qualifying, Kyle Busch won the pole position for Sunday’s Axalta presents the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET on FS1) by a comfortable margin.
The only driver to top 179 mph in three rounds of time trials, Busch covered the 2.5-mile distance at the triangular track in 50.237 seconds (179.151 mph) to earn his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his third at Pocono and the 21st of his career.
In the money round, Busch powered his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to a .171-second over fellow Camry driver Martin Truex Jr. (178.543 mph). As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season enters its second half, Busch and Truex, the series leader, will start 1-2 for their second straight race, having qualified first and second, respectively, at Dover.
Despite slipping slightly at the entrance to Turn 3, Busch gained substantial time through that corner.
“I thought I got through Turn 1 pretty good,” said Busch, whose crew chief, Adam Stevens, is serving a four-week suspension because the left rear tire on Busch’s car fell off (because of unattached lugs) during the team’s first pit stop last week at Dover. “I thought I got through Turn 2 just OK, and entering Turn 3, I felt I slipped a little too much, actually.
“As it stopped slipping, I was like, ‘Wow, it’s got great grip right now — go!’ I was able to get the gas down and stick really well off Turn 3. I did notice that I was able to shift early and felt like I got a really good exit there. I didn’t know how good a lap it was going to be. It took forever to pop up on my screen.
“And once they said it was a 50.20, I said ‘Well, that’s faster than the last round. Hopefully, that’s good enough.’”
Matt Kenseth qualified third, as Toyotas grabbed the top three spots on the grid. The three Fords of Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski followed in fourth through sixth. Kyle Larson, who ran the fastest lap in the first round (178.625 mph), was seventh in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
“The first round was really good for us,” Larson said. “Our Target Chevy drove really nice. I didn’t even feel like I was driving hard. So, the second round, I tried to get a little more, and I just got loose into (Turn) 1 and screwed up my whole lap.
“And then the third round there, I backed my entry up into (Turn) 1 and still got loose in but was able to get to the bottom, and then I just got really tight off of (Turn) 1 and it killed my lap. Turns 2 and 3 are pretty good, but I just killed it there in Turn 1.”
Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman were eighth, ninth and 10th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start at the rear of the field after over-revving his engine during Friday’s opening practice, necessitating a change of the power plant. Under NASCAR’s one-engine rule, that means a mandatory start at the back.
“I blew the engine up,” Earnhardt explained in a tweet. “Went into 2nd gear (aiming for fourth) and grenaded it. Will have to start last Sunday… Our rev limiter is 9500. It turned 12,615 before it gave up.”
Earnhardt ran one lap in the first round of qualifying and was 28th fastest, but he will drop to the rear for the green flag.
“If there’s a race track you’ve got to start in the back and not have a very good pit selection, this is the one to do that at,” Earnhardt said after his run. “Since we’re required to start on the tires we qualify on, we really just planned on making one lap. We went out there and we had our car set-up like we are going to try to start tomorrow (for practice) in race trim.
“We just went out there and made one single lap to really kind of get a directional idea of where we want to go tomorrow. It allowed us to take pictures of our car and know where the travels and everything is. That way we don’t put any more laps on our tires that we have to start on Sunday.”