JOLIET, Ill. – Kyle Busch swept all three rounds of Coors Light Pole Qualifying at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday evening, making a huge statement ahead of the first race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Busch toured the mile-and-a-half D-shaped oval in 28.729 seconds (187.963 mph) to put his No. 18 Skittles Sweet Heat Toyota out front for Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 just outside of the Windy City.
The 2015 Cup champion’s lap was more than a quarter-second faster than anyone in the field, and he was the only driver underneath the 29-second mark in the final knockout round.
“Great adjustments right there; that’s what got us the pole,” Busch said. “We were a little bit free there on the first couple runs and just trying to get the balance right. That final run, the balance was way better. I was really able to attack and get the most out of it. That was all she had in her right there.”
Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin was second-fastest (29.006/186.168) in the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, but Hamlin shook his head at Busch’s lap time after climbing from his car.
“Great run for all of us at Toyota,” said Hamlin of the manufacturer’s top-three sweep. “We’ll look at data when we get back (to the hauler), but that amount of speed is probably all driver. It’s a great starting spot to start from and we’ll hopefully have a great Sunday from the front row.”
Regular season champion Martin Truex Jr. completed the Toyota run on top of the pylon in third, followed by the Fords of Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.
Kyle Larson was the best Chevrolet qualifier in sixth, followed by Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney among the drivers who advanced through all three rounds of time trials.
Rookie Daniel Suarez was the first driver below the cut line to advance to the final round, timing in 13th after clipping the Illinois speedway in 29.246 seconds (184.641 mph) with the No. 19 STANLEY Toyota.
Jimmie Johnson was highest among the playoff drivers eliminated in round two; posting the 14th-fastest lap in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet (29.282/184.414).
“This is a step in the right direction for us,” said Johnson. “We always want to be better, but starting in the seventh row is a lot better than where we’ve been starting recently. If we can move forward, like we typically do in the race, it can get momentum going the right way for us. We’re digging deep; I think we’ve improved some … It’s playoff time; the weather’s cooling down and it’s time for us to get hot.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (15th), Ryan Newman (16th), Kurt Busch (17th) and Jamie McMurray (19th) were the other championship contenders knocked out in the second knockout round.
A caution four minutes into round two saw Erik Jones spin off the exit of Turn 4, losing the handle on his No. 77 5-HOUR Energy Toyota and going around but not making contact with the wall.
“There was just nothing there to lean on,” Jones radioed to his crew of the incident.
Jones was officially credited with 24th in qualifying, but will have to drop to the rear for Sunday’s race.
Kasey Kahne was the only playoff driver who failed to transfer out of round one, qualifying 25th-fastest with a lap of 29.686 seconds (181.904 mph) in the No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
“We were missing rear grip; we didn’t have any,” Kahne said. “We’ll start 25th on Sunday, basically. We were terrible in practice, we were terrible in qualifying, but tomorrow’s a new day, so we’ll do everything we can to be better. Today was awful; we want to put it behind us.”
The Tales of the Turtles 400 kicks off at 3 p.m. ET Sunday, live on NBCSN, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
Full qualifying results can be viewed on the next page…