|Jerry Markland/Getty Images|
Kyle Busch raced to the top of the leaderboard in Friday evening's qualifying session for Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway to collect his first-career Atlanta pole.
Busch was one of the last cars to take to the track in the third and final round of qualifying and rocketed to the pole with a lap of 184.652 mph to knock "The Rocketman" Ryan Newman from the top spot.
Newman held onto the second spot with a lap of 184.419mph. Kevin Harvick (184.388) will start third, followed by "The Monterrey Missile" Daniel Suarez (184.229) and Brad Keselowski (183.856).
Busch has previously won the pole at this same race back in 2016, only to be disqualified in post-qualifying inspection as a result of too much rear toe on the no. 18 Toyota Camry, handing the top-starting spot to his brother Kurt Busch.
This time around, Busch's car cleared inspection, and his first "official" Atlanta pole was in the books.
"Feels good, I don't know why we have to rewind (to 2016)," said Busch. "Certainly that was one that we didn't want to see happen that day. Qualifying up front at Atlanta is important. It's so hard on tires here, you don't want to roll back on tires and pass a lot of cars. You want to take care of your cars and keep your tires on for 500 miles. Even though you get tire changes, having to come from behind is harder to do than protect the position you already gained. So today getting to qualify on the pole is good.
"Last year we qualified on the pole a lot. We qualified I think eight times on the pole. That was the best qualifying effort from me on the year and I want to keep it going."
Before Kyle Busch took the track, Newman was on the verge of his eighth-career Atlanta pole, which would have broken a tie with Buddy Bake for the most Atlanta poles all-time.
"He (Kyle Busch, pole winner) earned it," Newman said. "Obviously I did it seven times to beat somebody else in second. So, we'll just keep digging. We've got a good race car and we'll hopefully have some fun this weekend.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"] "Obviously, the Camaro is strong out of the box, but wish we could have got that pole. Just in general look forward to this weekend. I think the drivers fought really hard last year to make sure this place didn't get repaved and I think we are going to put up the same battle again this year."
Suarez will make his first-career top-five Atlanta start after qualifying third for the race.
Several cars had issues getting through inspection, including Jimmie Johnson and defending Cup Series Champion Martin Truex, Jr. Truex's No. 78 Toyota failed inspection three times and never made a qualifying attempt, and will start in the rear for Sunday's race.
Per NASCAR rules the team's car chief Blake Harris will be suspended from Sunday's race and the team will also lose 30 minutes of practice time in Saturday's final practice session. Had the team failed inspection a fourth time on Friday, they would have risked losing crew chief Cole Pearn for the weekend as well.
NASCAR VP of Competition Scott Miller said the No. 78 had "body scan failures and rear toe issues" that prevented the car from passing inspection.
"Between the combinations of those, we didn't get a green light the third time through," said Miller.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer and Erik Jones rounded out the top 10.
Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon got bumped out of the top 24 by Chris Buescher at the last moment and will line up 25th for Sunday's race. Points leader Ryan Blaney will start 26th.
Only 36 cars are entered for Sunday's race so every driver will qualify for the event.
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Snickers Almond Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Starting Position: 1st
How did you feel your car handled today and what part of the racetrack was key to get the pole?
“We seemed to be getting beat on every single run through (turns) 1 and 2. But there, during that final run, I felt we got through 1 and 2 better and I was just like don’t screw up 3 and 4. I felt like 3 and 4 were pretty normal. We were really good through the 3 and 4 end the previous round. I didn’t want to screw that up with some of the adjustments we were making to get this Snickers Almond Camry faster than it was. I can’t say enough about the guys from TRD, M&M’s, Interstate Batteries, NOS Energy Drink, Cessna. It’s cool to be upfront here at Atlanta – hopefully we can keep it. We were in this position last year I believe but want to be here to start on Sunday."
What does it mean for this Sunday’s race to be your 350th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start with Toyota especially with you having earned Toyota’s first Cup win here?
“The pole run was really good with being able to start up front where we left off last year having strong qualifying efforts each week all year long. Atlanta is a tough place. It certainly isn’t easy, you have to able to make sure you bide your time here with the tires and everything. Going through three rounds of qualifying is a challenge and it certainly was for us. But we got it right there on the last round and were certainly were able to hit a good lap there on the last one. We got everything we needed out of the racecar, so we certainly were glad the time popped up when it did to put us on the top of the sheet and we’re looking forward to Sunday."
Is there strategy to why you are only running Truck and Cup this weekend?
“It was certainly on my radar to try to run the Xfinity (NASCAR Xfinity Series) race here, unfortunately we didn’t get the sponsorship package put together in time. We tried to push the sponsors into running Atlanta here but they chose Kentucky in the fall so they had more opportunity to activate. This sport is sponsor driven and only having seven opportunities here to go run these races; it’s kind of harder to find good opportunities that will present themselves. Fortunately we have good partners to help us in this regard running the Truck race here still. Hopefully we can score a victory in that race and have my first Truck victory at Atlanta for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Although, I have had many victories here with Billy Ballew Motorsports. Looking forward to running the double with Truck and Cup. It certainly is a bit slower than having to run all three. I certainly been a lot more tired than I am right now but today was a good day."
Who would you say is your chief competition here?
“No clue. It doesn’t matter yet. Anybody that practiced earlier today in race trim, it’s so green, I don’t even know if that means anything. With all the rubber that was able to be put down today, we never even made a run in that top lane. We made all of our runs in qualifying. It was too dirty earlier today, it wasn’t even blown off yet. The Trucks did that a little bit. The Xfinity cars did that a little bit. We’ll continue to see things change tomorrow with some more qualifying and Happy Hour for the Cup guys. We’ll have to figure it out tomorrow once we see the time sheets from tomorrow afternoon."
How does it feel to win the pole here?
“Feels good, I don’t know why we have to rewind. Certainly that was one that we didn’t want to see happen that day. Qualifying up front at Atlanta is important. It’s so hard on tires here, you don’t want to roll back on tires and pass a lot of cars. You want to take care of your cars and keep your tires on for 500 miles. Even though you get tire changes, having to come from behind is harder to do than protect the position you already gained. So today getting to qualify on the pole is good. Last year we qualified on the pole a lot. We qualified I think eight times on the pole. That was the best qualifying effort from me on the year and I want to keep it going."
Is the pole here showing the competition you have to get on the same level as the 78-car?
“Certainly the 78 pushed all of us at Joe Gibbs Racing to get better. We knew they had the same stuff and were kind of underperforming if you will. We did all of our work through the second-half of the year last year. I actually thought we had a shot to beat him at Homestead. We’re hoping to get to Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Auto Club and pick back up where we left off last year, and so far so good. I have no clue how we’re going to race. I’ve either been feast or famine here. I’ve been upfront with a chance to win or worse. There is no in between for me. So I am trying to get where I can figure this place out but that will probably be short-lived with a repave. But when anyone is good in the garage they raise the competition level. When you’re getting beat, you have to find a way to go out there and find ways that will make your program better, stronger and faster than the guys you’re racing around."
How big was your 2008 win at Atlanta, and how does it stack up against other wins during your Cup career?
“It was a big win, and on that day it was huge. It was the biggest one of my career. From transitioning from Hendrick Motorsports to Joe Gibbs Racing and Chevy to Toyota and kind of figuring out where my new home was going to be. It obviously was a scary situation for me to be in, not knowing a lot of my surroundings. I was teammates with Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin was certainly a key thing for me. I remember Tony finished second to me that day, so he was right there and was fast all day long. Some tense moments there in the end with lap cars that were slower than me and I kind of got up on their bumper a few times and got them off the bottom because I remember we were just locked in to running that yellow line. Carl (Edwards) was superfast that day too, so we were chasing him for much of the day. First and second back and forth with Carl before he had an engine failure and we were able to take over as the dominant car that day for the rest of the race. Overall was just really happy in that situation to get that relief of being able to win so early in the season, not only for myself, but for Toyota and the relationship I picked up with Joe Gibbs Racing and M&M’s Mars and Snickers that day, too. Cool to look back on all that and see where we’ve come since then. Certainly have gained a lot of family in this relationship over just being friends."
Are you looking forward to going home to Las Vegas next weekend?
“Certainly looking forward to getting back to Vegas, always do. This year it’s going to mean a little bit more, be a little bit more important to kind of focus on the right things in your race car to be good. You have that (Playoff) race that’s going to be happening there in September. It certainly is a race track that I try to enjoy and run well at, but more importantly win at. I’ve only been able to do that once in 2009. I’d certainly like to be able to get back to those winning ways there of being able to have a fast race car and figure out what it takes to get around there well. It’s the hometown race and I’ll be running all three with the triple out there so it will be chaotic doing all that. Certainly looking forward to that and the challenge it presents."
Did you think there’d be more inspection issues today with the new Optical Scanning Station?
“I certainly would have guessed there’d be a lot more that they (78 of Furniture Row Racing) wouldn’t have been the only ones. Honestly I have no clue what happened, I don’t have that information on top of my head right now. I’ll have to go back and figure out what they missed out on in being able to get through the OSS, right."
How has the transition been to the NT1 engine for this year?
“It’s been really, really tough on us so far for the start of the season. Especially with the lateness that we’ve gone and done some of the swapping over having some Elmore engines. It’s been heck on my guys at Kyle Busch Motorsports. They’ve been working three shifts – we have guys working until three in the morning and coming in at seven in the morning to get the things prepared and swapped over. Some of these trucks have Ilmors. We don’t have enough Ilmors – they don’t have enough to ship out to go around. That’s been awesome. We’re kind of shorthanded on some of that stuff. All of our backups – if we had to go to a backup truck – it has all our OEM stuff in it. We just don’t have enough engines right now. We were late to the game with ordering that stuff because we were trying to stick with the OEM. To answer your second question, it’s been unfortunate we can’t get them to be equal. We have been to the chassis dyno, the engine dyno over and over again to submit to NASCAR to show the Toyotas are down on power compared to the Ilmors is basically – our hands are tied behind our back. We are slowly swapping over as much as we can to get to where we need to get to be competitive. This weekend we have two of them that have it and one of them still has the OEM, couldn’t get three done."
|1||18||Kyle Busch||Snickers Almond Toyota||30.024||184.652|
|2||31||Ryan Newman||Liberty National Chevrolet||30.062||184.419|
|3||4||Kevin Harvick||Jimmy John's Ford||30.067||184.388|
|4||19||Daniel Suarez||ARRIS Toyota||30.093||184.229|
|5||2||Brad Keselowski||Autotrader Ford||30.154||183.856|
|6||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford Ford||30.176||183.722|
|7||41||Kurt Busch||Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford||30.215||183.485|
|8||42||Kyle Larson||First Data Chevrolet||30.221||183.449|
|9||14||Clint Bowyer||Haas Automation Ford||30.414||182.284|
|10||20||Erik Jones||DEWALT Toyota||30.621||181.052|
|11||10||Aric Almirola||Smithfield Ford||30.224||183.43|
|12||11||Denny Hamlin||FedEx Ground Toyota||30.303||182.952|
|13||1||Jamie McMurray||McDonald's Chevrolet||30.324||182.825|
|14||95||Kasey Kahne||Procore Habitat for Humanity Chevrolet||30.377||182.507|
|15||21||Paul Menard||Menards/Moen Ford||30.384||182.464|
|16||22||Joey Logano||Shell Pennzoil Ford||30.44||182.129|
|17||34||Michael McDowell||Love's Travel Stops Ford||30.469||181.955|
|18||88||Alex Bowman||Axalta Chevrolet||30.523||181.634|
|19||43||Darrell Wallace Jr. #||NASCAR Racing Experience Chevrolet||30.551||181.467|
|20||6||Trevor Bayne||AdvoCare Ford||30.578||181.307|
|21||47||AJ Allmendinger||Kroger ClickList Chevrolet||30.588||181.248|
|22||48||Jimmie Johnson||Lowe's for Pros Chevrolet||30.59||181.236|
|23||24||William Byron #||Liberty University Chevrolet||30.663||180.804|
|24||37||Chris Buescher||Louisiana Hot Sauce Chevrolet||30.488||181.842|
|25||3||Austin Dillon||Dow Chevrolet||30.503||181.753|
|26||12||Ryan Blaney||DEX Imaging Ford||30.537||181.55|
|27||9||Chase Elliott||NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet||30.616||181.082|
|28||13||Ty Dillon||GEICO Chevrolet||30.75||180.293|
|29||38||David Ragan||Fr8 Auctions Ford||30.78||180.117|
|30||32||Matt DiBenedetto||Can-Am/Wholey Ford||30.987||178.914|
|31||23||Gray Gaulding Jr.||Earthwater Toyota||31.099||178.269|
|33||0||Jeffrey Earnhardt||VRX Simulators Chevrolet||31.671||175.05|
|34||15||Ross Chastain(i)||LowT Center Chevrolet||31.796||174.362|
|35||78||Martin Truex Jr.||Bass Pro Shops/5-hour Energy Toyota||—||—|
|36||51||Harrison Rhodes||Davis Roofing/ICE Chevrolet||—||—|
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]