HAMPTON, Ga. — Kyle Busch has accomplished a lot of things in his NASCAR career, but he had never managed to top pole qualifying at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 19 prior tries.
That changed Friday evening, as Busch rocketed to his 28th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pole and first at Atlanta during knockout qualifying at the 1.5-mile quad-oval.
Busch took the No. 18 Snickers Almond Toyota to a fast lap of 30.024 seconds (184.652 mph) in the third and final knockout round, avenging a near-miss from two years prior when he posted the fastest lap in time trials and then had his time disallowed in post-qualifying inspection.
There were no issues this time around, though Busch admitted he was battling some handling issues before nailing it in when it mattered most.
“We were just a little bit too loose (early in qualifying) and trying to make sure we could get the throttle down. That’s kind of where we felt like we made up time in that last round,” said Busch. “All in all, this is just a great day. It’s really cool to have the Snickers Almond paint scheme with us here this week … and having our Toyota Camry up front.”
“I’m proud of the effort from all our guys. The guys did a great job. (Crew chief) Adam (Stevens) made some really great calls (with) being able to adjust on it there for the three rounds of qualifying … and being able to start up front will hopefully bode well for Sunday.”
While Busch was celebrating on pit road, the late Buddy Baker was surely celebrating from afar, as Busch’s lap bumped Ryan Newman off the pole late in the final round of qualifying.
Newman was going for a record eighth Cup pole at Atlanta, which would have broken a tie with Baker, but came up .038 of a second short in his No. 31 Liberty National Chevrolet and will start second (30.062/184.419) in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
“Man, that was rough, but he (Busch) earned it,” said Newman. “Obviously I did it seven times to beat somebody else in second, so it’s never easy. We’ll just keep digging. We’ve got a good race car and we’ll hopefully have some fun this weekend.”
“I think in race trim our car is pretty good. The track conditions seem to change so much when you start practice like we did earlier today with a green race track. I look forward to the weekend. It’s one of the best race tracks we come to for being able to handle and work your magic inside the race car, because that’s what it all comes down to.”
Kevin Harvick was third-fastest in the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford, giving all three manufacturers representation in the top three on the starting grid, with Daniel Suarez and defending race winner Brad Keselowski completing the top five.
Practice leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was sixth overall, with Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola and Denny Hamlin completing the dozen drivers who advanced through all three knockout rounds.
Jamie McMurray was the first driver who failed to make the final round of qualifying, lining up 13th on the grid after a lap of 30.324 seconds (182.825 mph) in the second round with his No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet.
Other notables starting in the midfield include Joey Logano (16th), Alex Bowman (18th), Daytona 500 runner-up Darrell Wallace Jr. (19th) and seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (22nd).
Daytona 500 champion Austin Dillon never made it out of round one on Friday and will start 25th (30.503/181.753) in the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet.
Meanwhile, defending Cup Series titlist Martin Truex Jr. will start from the last row of the grid after his No. 78 Bass Pro Shops Toyota failed pre-qualifying inspection three times, with the car never even making it to pit road to attempt a qualifying lap.
As a result of the inspection failures, car chief Blake Harris was ejected from the track for the weekend, and Truex will also lose 30 minutes of practice time on Saturday as well.
Full qualifying results can be viewed on the next page…