NSCS: Fast When it Counts; Kyle Busch Scores Coors Light Pole Award at Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Story by Race Chaser Online Correspondent Kyle Souza — Getty Images for NASCAR photo —

The Busch brothers are now three for four when it comes to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series poles in 2016.

After Kurt Busch took down the pole at Atlanta and Las Vegas, his brother Kyle followed in his footsteps Friday at Phoenix International Speedway, blasting to the top of the charts in the final round and scoring the pole for Sunday’s Good Sam 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM).

The effort is the 18th career Coors Light Pole Award for the driver of the No. 18 Toyota, his third at Phoenix and first of the season. The younger Busch brother qualified fastest at Atlanta Motor Speedway in February, but was disqualified in post-race technical inspection and forfeited the pole as a result.

“It certainly was a good day for us here today, unloading off the truck everything seemed to go real well,” Kyle Busch said. “I wasn’t sure about our speed in race trim, but we swapped over to qualifying trim and we had good speed. Being able to have some good laps in qualifying and run a good lap in the last session before Jimmie crashed was what helped us win the pole.”

The fast lap in the final round for the reigning Sprint Cup champion was a clip of 26.014 seconds (138.387 mph) around the one-mile oval.

Immediately behind Busch were two of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. The first of that trailing duo was Carl Edwards, who toured the one-mile flat track with a lap of 26.179 seconds (137.515 mph) in his No. 19 Stanley Toyota to grab a front row starting spot alongside Busch on Sunday.

“That lap was my warm-up lap; the second one was going to be my good one but we didn’t make it to the red and black flags,” Edwards joked following qualifying. “It seems like the cars are a little harder to get exactly right all the way around the track this time. The second practice tomorrow should tell us about the track going into Sunday.”

2016 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin followed Edwards — qualifying in third with a lap of 26.196 seconds (137.426 mph). As a result, JGR completed a sweep of the top three spots in qualifying for the fourth time in the organization’s history and first since August of 2015 at Bristol Motor Speedway (when Hamlin won the pole).

Kurt Busch took his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet to fourth in the final session, locking up his starting grid spot for the outside of the second row on Sunday. His lap of 26.202 (137.394) was tops among the ‘Bowtie Brigade’ in qualifying.

Behind Busch was Jimmie Johnson, who posted the fifth-fastest lap in qualifying but will drop to the rear of the field on Sunday. The six-time Sprint Cup champion completed a lap in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, but when he dove off into turn one to start his second lap, the car went “straight right” and pounded the outside SAFER Barrier.

The crash destroyed the right front of the car and sent the team scrambling to the trailer to unload a back-up car.

“It just went straight,” Johnson said after escaping his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet without injury. “Just [took] a really hard impact into the outside wall. I’m thankful that we have SAFER Barriers and soft walls. We’re very disappointed, because we had such a fast race car. The guys worked so hard to get this thing tuned up.”

Behind Johnson on speed in the final round was Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth, who made vast improvements from practice earlier in the day in order to get himself a sixth-place effort. Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kyle Larson qualified seventh, while Martin Truex Jr. was eighth. Joey Logano took his No. 22 Team Penske Ford to ninth and was followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jamie McMurray (11th) and Ryan Blaney (12th) among the cars that made the final round of qualifying.

Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle was the first driver to miss the cut, qualifying in 13th spot. Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon completed the top-15 on the grid.

Of note, seven-time Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick — the odds-on favorite entering the weekend — qualified a surprising 18th, and will have some work to do as he looks to avenge a near-miss to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in last November’s Chase race at PIR.

During the first knockout round, Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Farmer’s Insurance Chevrolet went up in smoke with an engine problem. Kahne completed a lap, which was second at the time of its completion, but coming down the backstretch the car started showing smoke from the front air ducting and forced the Enumclaw, Wash. native to bring it to a halt.

Kahne ended up finishing the first round in a position to advance to round two, but with the engine problem, couldn’t make it out for the second round and lines up 24th on the provisional grid as a result. The team will replace the engine and Kahne will start from the back on Sunday.

Just missing the second round of qualifying were Casey Mears (25th) and Earnhardt Jr. (26th).

Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports team struggled all day with the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet and it was simply not right when they needed to run a fast lap on Friday. After two tries on the track, he drove the car back to the garage without making the second round for the first time since Richmond race in September of 2015.

Also failing to advance out of round one was Ty Dillon, who was the fastest car in the final NASCAR XFINITY Series practice on Friday at Phoenix. Dillon is subbing for the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet and will start from 28th on Sunday afternoon.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will hold two practice sessions on Saturday for teams to adjust further on their cars. First Saturday practice goes green at 10:30 a.m. ET, with live coverage on FOX Sports 1.


RESULTS: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; Coors Light Pole Qualifying; Phoenix International Raceway; March 11, 2016

  1. Kyle Busch
  2. Carl Edwards
  3. Denny Hamlin
  4. Kurt Busch
  5. Jimmie Johnson
  6. Matt Kenseth
  7. Kyle Larson
  8. Martin Truex Jr.
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  11. Jamie McMurray
  12. Ryan Blaney
  13. Greg Biffle
  14. Aric Almirola
  15. Austin Dillon
  16. Paul Menard
  17. Chase Elliott
  18. Kevin Harvick
  19. Brad Keselowski
  20. Ryan Newman
  21. Trevor Bayne
  22. A.J. Allmendinger
  23. Matt DiBenedetto
  24. Kasey Kahne
  25. Casey Mears
  26. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  27. Landon Cassill
  28. Ty Dillon
  29. David Ragan
  30. Brian Scott
  31. Regan Smith
  32. Chris Buescher
  33. Michael McDowell
  34. Cole Whitt
  35. Clint Bowyer
  36. Danica Patrick
  37. Josh Wise
  38. Michael Annett
  39. Joey Gase


About the Writer

Kyle Souza is an aspiring Journalism major at the Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.  Souza is Race Chaser Online’s New England motorsports insider, covering everything from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to the NASCAR Whelen All American Series and the PASS North Super Late Models.

When not writing, Souza works at the Seekonk Speedway as the track’s Friday night public address announcer and press writer, and is also the Media Director for both the Granite State Pro Stock Series and the Tri Track Open Modified Series.

Email Kyle at: kylesouza34@gmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @Kouza34

Email Race Chaser Online: news@racechaseronline.com

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