Busch breaks Bristol record
None more so than Kyle Busch, the fastest of nine drivers to break the 15-second mark on their qualifying lap. Prior to Friday, only three drivers (Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon) had turned a Sprint Cup qualifying lap in less than 15 seconds.
“I like driving it,” said Busch, whose 11th career pole marked his first Coors Light Pole Award at Bristol and the first time he’d qualified higher than ninth on the .533-mile oval. “You can drive it a lot more like the older car we had years ago where you can abuse it a little bit.”
Busch, no stranger to Victory Lane at Bristol, captured the pole with a lap of 14.813 (129.535 mph) seconds in the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota. Newman’s track record, set in 2003, had been 14.908 seconds (128.709 mph).
Each of Friday’s top three qualifiers -- Busch, Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin -- topped Newman’s mark. Hamlin (14.879) looked like he might join his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate on the front row until Kahne knocked him down a peg with his time of 14.875.
Brian Vickers (14.929), Paul Menard (14.949), Jamie McMurray (14.957), Brad Keselowski (14.966), Tony Stewart (14.990) and Martin Truex Jr. (14.997) also eclipsed 15 seconds, with Joey Logano (15.005) rounding out the top 10.
“The car felt great during that lap,” said Busch, who has come from off the pace to win five times (including four of the past eight Cup races) at Bristol. “We’ve never really worried too much about qualifying runs. We unloaded with a really good race car and we just kept fine-tuning to make it a little bit better -- and we were able to get it where it was pretty quick in practice.”
For Hamlin, if even for just a couple laps, it felt good to get back to racing. Hamlin had spent recent days embroiled in controversy, after being fined following his comments at Phoenix.
He had no gripe with his machinery Friday.
“I’m pretty happy with what we’ve got,” said Hamlin, who earlier in the day said he had “bigger fish to fry” than worrying about the $25,000 fine. “For my team’s sake, we need to focus on running as good as we can and trying to make this Chase. Any distraction is something that you don’t need -- especially when the competition is so close. You just can’t afford anything that hampers your ability to go win, so this is going to be a step in the right direction for us.”
Kahne, driving the No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, thought he might have challenged Busch had he not been a little tight between Turns 1 and 2.
“I felt like I may have given up a little bit in 1 and 2, which would have made it really close for the pole,” Kahne said. “But still we were very good in 3 and 4. The car was balanced really nice.”
How fast can cars go at Bristol? Maybe closer to 14 seconds than 15, according to Busch.
“I think a lot of it is probably (about the) tire,” he said. “You could certainly put a softer tire on here and go lights-out. You’d have trouble making it very much longer after that, but I betcha you could run somewhere it the low 14s.”
Sprint Cup Series points leader Jimmie Johnson qualified 13th.
Scott Riggs was the lone driver who failed to qualify on Friday. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was forced to change an engine during practice and will start at the rear of the field despite qualifying with the 28th-fastest time.
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What does it mean to earn your first pole at Bristol? "Certainly starting up front here at Bristol can mean good things, but it doesn't always work that way. I've won plenty of races here starting at the back. To be able to come out here today -- this whole Joe Gibbs Racing team has done a great job. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and all the guys unloaded with a really good race car. We just kept fine-tuning on the M&M's Camry to make it a little bit better and we were able to get to where it was pretty quick in practice. We thought we would have a shot for the pole, but we thought that many times here before and we've ended up 30th or something. We backed up our practice time, which was good and the car felt great during the lap. The track is getting a little bit of age on it so it's getting a little bit rougher and that's about all that we felt different from what we've had here in the past years."
Does the tire compound keep the cars from going faster? "I think a lot of it is probably tire. You could certainly put a softer tire on here and go lights out, but you'd have trouble making it very much longer after. You get a little bit better tire on it and start pushing lower lap times and then you start getting higher loads and then you'll probably start seeing some fatigue in parts and stuff like that. If it was like the old days where guys would go places and try to do speed runs -- you would take the lead out and you would build a car as light as you could for here just to go make a lap. I bet you could run somewhere in the low 14's probably -- some teens or 20s."
What happened in practice with David Gilliland and do you expect the high groove to come in on Sunday? "We pulled out -- my spotter kind of cleared me to go out and I might have lollygagged a little bit and the 38 (David Gilliland) caught me and got to my outside. Then I was just trying to clear him and get away from him, but he kept racing me. I ended up getting into the corner a little too much with him on my door and got loose and made contact and spun a little bit, which killed the rest of practice for our race run stuff because it hurt the set of tires so we had to start qualifying practice from there. As far as the race goes, I think we'll definitely see the top lane come in for sure. When or how fast, I'm not sure about that exactly. I think the Nationwide race we'll see it come in -- you'll start seeing guys work the middle and then working a little bit higher maybe towards the edge of the grind and then throughout the Cup race we saw the grind area really come into play. As rough as the bottom is getting because they ground the top, they made the top smoother so it might actually make the top better than what we all originally planned or hoped for."
Did you know the lap was strong enough for the pole? "There was a lot of guys that got closer to me than I expected them to. It's weird because sometimes you can sit on the pole and be like, 'Man, I just busted my butt and that was a fast lap -- nobody is going to beat that.' Then somebody beats it or somebody else might even beat it and you end up third or fourth and you're like, 'Well, I guess it wasn't that good.' Then there's other times where you're like, 'Aw man, that was slow, I don't think that's going to be like fifth or sixth.' Then it ends up being the pole. You never really know. I'm never a very good judge at any of that stuff so you just wait until the end and find out if you got it or not."
How is this the first pole at Bristol for you in NSCS? "We've never really worried too much about qualifying runs or anything like that. This new car -- I like driving it because you can drive it a lot more like the old car that we had years ago where you could just abuse it a little bit and try to drive a little bit harder. The old car was all about being smooth and precise and this one here, you can make a little more speed by trying a little harder."
Is this a big race for NASCAR and they need this race to be good? "No, I think that we actually put on a good show last week in Vegas where there was a lot of good racing. I thought there was good racing throughout the field. There was times where guys were side-by-side -- there was some passing and there was some passing for the lead on the race track even though I was the one getting passed for the lead -- that kind of sucked. Other than that, it was a good show. I don't think this weekend here in Bristol needs to be a savior at all. I think we all just need to go out here and put on a good show and enjoy Bristol for what Bristol is and see what happens Sunday."
Is your opinion of the track different than last August? "I think we'll see again what it all has in store for us. Like I said, there was times in the race where we all weren't sure that the top lane was going to come in and then as soon as the grind starting taking a little bit of rubber -- boom, everybody was up there and it was smoother to run up there than it was some of the other parts of the race track. It made it to where it actually became the bottom like the way bottom and then the way top -- there really wasn't a middle so we might see some of that again come Sunday."
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