FORT WORTH, Tex. — Kurt Busch gave crew chief Tony Gibson a great birthday present Friday evening when he won the pole for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Busch broke boss-man Tony Stewart’s old track qualifying record at 26.877 seconds (200.915 mph) in turning the fastest lap ever on a 1.5-mile track.
“We just kept getting tighter-and-tighter through a lot of our rounds this year so they asked me if you want to do wedge, track bar and air pressure,” Busch said. “I said, D. All of the above so we just freed it up and the Ford stuck. It’s really good on track record-type pace to get a pole here at Texas and to just have all the guys working hard still and pushing. There was something special coming into today and I think it was all Gibson’s birthday.”
The 2004 Cup champ scored his first Coors Light pole of 2017 and first in 66 races since winning the pole at hometown track Las Vegas Motor Speedway last March.
“We’ve just had bad luck and just have to get ahead of it and position ourselves a step ahead instead of being a step behind so today’s a great step forward,” Busch added. “We’ll have good track position.”
Denny Hamlin (200.617 mph) held the top spot in the final round of qualifying until Busch knocked him off the pole in the final minutes, with the top-five qualifiers all eclipsing 200 mph. Hamlin gained a lot of time in Turns 1 and 2 on his laps, but still lacked speed in 3 and 4.
“I’ve been a little bit slower than the field in 3 and 4 all day really,” Hamlin said. “I got better that last run but just wasn’t enough. Just can’t seem to fully commit as much as I need to through 3 and 4. Least to say that was one I really wanted pretty bad.”
Hamlin comes into Texas after late-race contact with Chase Elliott last week at Martinsville and was the highest-qualifier among the eight playoff drivers. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was followed by another title contender in Kevin Harvick (third) who was fastest in the first round of Coors Light Pole qualifying.
“We have done a phenomenal job qualifying all year,” Harvick said. “Hadn’t been more nervous for one than this one just because I feel like it will be a crucial track position game to dictate your strategy and get the stage points that you need that you need to be up front. They did a good job. I didn’t know if we were going to make it with all the inspection stuff going on. We came out at the last minute.”
“Kurt did a great job getting the pole. We needed him to get the pole, not the 11.”
Erik Jones (fourth) was fastest in round two of qualifying as Martinsville winner Kyle Busch (200.252 mph) completed the top-five.
Daniel Suarez slotted in sixth, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney. Truex won the last time out at a 1.5-mile track at Kansas and looks on adding to his six wins on those types of tracks.
Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski rounded out the rest of the top-10 for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.
Seven cars failed to post a time after not getting through pre-qualifying inspection, which included playoff driver Chase Elliott.
Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano were other notables unable to make it on track during the qualifying session.
XFINITY Series driver Daniel Hemric qualified the No. 27 Menards Chevrolet while Paul Menard and wife Jennifer welcomed their second child Friday.
Saturday’s on-track activity features two practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, starting with the first of two sessions at 3 p.m. ET (CNBC, PRN)