Kyle Busch will have a front row seat when the field takes the green flag for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race after qualifying with the fastest speed of 184.652 mph at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Driving the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Busch nabbed the top spot from Ryan Newman (184.419 mph) and clinched his first career pole at the iconic 1.5-mile oval.
Busch was cautiously optimistic after winning the pole.
“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.” But, he added, “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.”
Ryan Newman will join Busch on the front row after qualifying with the second fasted speed.
“We’ve got a good racecar with our Liberty National Life Insurance Chevrolet. Obviously, the Camaro is strong out of the box, but wish we could have got that pole for them as well as us. Just in general, look forward to this weekend,” Newman said.
Kevin Harvick (184.388 mph) will start third, placing all three manufacturers in the top-3 starting positions. Daniel Suarez (184.229 mph) and Brad Keselowski (183.856 mph) round out the top-five.
“I think everybody did a great job on our Jimmy John’s/Busch Ford and the car still had speed. It just didn’t drive as good as we needed it to drive to cut to the center of the corner and it was just way too tight the whole time. We were that way in race trim too, and you don’t get a lot of chances at it in practice to try and make it better, so we took our best guess at it,” Harvick said.
Perhaps the biggest news besides Busch’s first career pole at the speedway was the pre-qualifying inspection failure by defending Monster Energy Cup champion, Martin Truex Jr. After three failed attempts to pass through Optical Scanning Station, NASCAR’s rule book states that a crew member gets ejected and the team is docked 30 minutes of practice. Blake Harris, car chief for the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota will be ejected for the remainder of the weekend. Truex will start at the rear of the field, as he and Harrison Rhodes did not turn a lap during qualifying.
“NASCAR’s new inspection process is just that … new,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “The tolerances are very tight, within thousandths of an inch. It’s difficult to push the limits where you feel you need to and still be within the tolerances of the new system. One thing we won’t do is leave anything on the table and expect to get poles and wins. We will always push for the maximum.”
Notable drivers eliminated during the first round of qualifying include Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and last week’s Daytona 500 champion Austin Dillon. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who topped first practice earlier in the day, backed up his run with a sixth-place start at 183.722 mph for Sunday’s race.
“Some days you do and some days you don’t and we didn’t today. So, I don’t know. We were way off, not even close. So, I don’t really have much of an excuse for it. We just didn’t hit it right today and we’ll go to work tonight and work through it and hopefully get ready for tomorrow. It’s our only option now,” Elliott said.
The green flag will wave on Sunday afternoon for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 shortly after 2 p.m. ET at Atlanta Motor Speedway.