CONCORD, N.C. — Report by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images photo — The first two sessions of knockout qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway Thursday night produced track record speeds, but it was Kyle Busch who was fastest when it counted.
Busch, driving the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota, posted a top speed of 197.390 mph (27.357 seconds) and held off challenges from a half dozen other drivers to claim the Coors Light Pole Award at Charlotte, his third pole of 2014 and 16th career Sprint Cup pole.
“This is certainly a good start; it feels pretty good to be able to come out and set a fast lap, get ourselves clean air and get ourselves prime pit selection too, that’s always important,” Busch expressed following the pole run. “Dave and the guys made some great adjustments and we ran pretty much the same lap times each round; we just kept backing them up.”
Despite being 0-for-21 in Cup competiton at Charlotte, the 14-time Charlotte winner (8 NNS, 6 NCWTS) is not worried about being able to contend for his first Cup triumph in NASCAR’s backyard.
“You just got to get through 500 miles at Charlotte first; we’ve had some pretty good races here in the past and now we’re just going out and seeing what we can do. You gotta take things one step at a time and this was the first step towards a win Saturday night.”
Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon will join Busch on the front row after posting a top speed of 197.217 mph, just 0.024 seconds off of the pole time.
“I was so nervous after we overdrove turn three on the last run and I think I was a little too conservative on that last run,” Gordon lamented following his final run. “I messed up turn two just a little bit, but it’s still a really good run for us and I think we’ll be in contention come Saturday night.”
Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart will comprise Row Two after qualifying third and fourth, respectively, with Ryan Newman rounding out the top five qualifiers.
Paul Menard, eight-time season pole winner Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards complete the first five rows on the starting grid. Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle were the final two drivers of the dozen who advanced to the third and final round of qualifying.
Joey Logano was the first driver to miss the final round cut in 13th, and among those who failed to advance to the final round were Danica Patrick (14th), Brad Keselowski (17th), Kasey Kahne (19th), Jimmie Johnson (21st) and Matt Kenseth (22nd). Charlotte was just the second time in 2014 that both Penske cars failed to advance to the final round of qualifying.
The second round, however, was most notable for Kurt Busch’s on-track heroics. The elder Busch blazed Charlotte to post the all-time fastest qualifying lap at a mile-and-a-half track in the history of the Sprint Cup Series during Round 2 when he posted a lap of 198.771 mph (27.167 seconds). The previous fastest lap at a 1.5-mile was set at Texas Motor Speedway in April by Kevin Harvick at 198.281 mph (27.234 seconds).
Kasey Kahne was the first driver to break the old track record in the first round of qualifying with a lap of 197.976 mph (27.276 seconds), and in all, 21 of the 24 drivers who advanced out of the opening round broke the old mark of 195.624 mph (27.604 seconds).
Notables who failed to advance past the first round of qualifying included Clint Bowyer, the first man on the outside in 25th, A.J. Allmendinger (26th) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (28th)
Trevor Bayne was the only car of the 44 entries to miss the show, unable to break his way into the fast 36 by the end of qualifying.
The Bank of America 500 takes the green flag on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, with live television coverage on ABC, as well as audio coverage on the Performance Racing Network and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio, Channel 90.