Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola have secret weapons for the Chase

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 12:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 12, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

JOLIET, IL – SEPTEMBER 12: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 12, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

JOLIET, Ill. – You can’t blame Chase teams for putting some of their best equipment to the side during the regular season and bringing it out for the Chase.

Aric Almirola’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports outfit is a case in point. At Chicagoland this weekend, Almirola is driving a car that was racy at both Kansas and Kentucky.

“We feel like some of our best cars we ran at Kansas and Kentucky earlier this year and were both top-10’s there—Kansas for sure, and Kentucky we were running sixth and got in a wreck late in the race,” Almirola said. “Nonetheless that car has performed really well. We pushed that one aside after we won Daytona and have been prepping it and getting it ready for Chicago.

“Our Loudon car is a brand new car, just to try something. Every time we build a new car it’s usually a little lighter, and hopefully that will make a difference. I think we’re taking our primary car from Bristol (to Dover). That was the fastest car I’ve ever had there until I crashed it in qualifying. It didn’t do any frame damage, so they put a new body on it, and that is the car we’re taking to Dover.”

Almirola isn’t the only driver with secret weapons for the Chase. Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates also will have some new pieces for the playoffs.

“Our car for Chicago is brand new—it has not seen the race track yet,” Busch said on Thursday. “Fortunately, we were able to do that because we built it, tunneled it (tested in the wind tunnel) and everything, then put it on jack stands to wait for the Chase, because we didn’t need to use it to get in.

“We had that luxury. Now that we have a couple sitting there on jack stands ready to go, we just take the covers off and put engines in them and get ready to go and see how they run. This will be our first test here this weekend.”

Busch earned his Chase spot with a victory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, in late March, but in the last six events, he has finished outside the top 35 four times.

Busch hopes his new equipment will help level the playing field between the JGR teams and the favorites for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.

“We know our level isn’t high enough, and we know there’s room to grow because of what we’re getting beat by each and every single week,” Busch said. “The 2 (Brad Keselowski), the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and the 24 (Jeff Gordon) — they are your favorites, so how much more can they pick up?

“I don’t know. They might have been running at 100 percent already, and if we can just get to their level and compete with them, then a driver may prevail a little more, and you can see some guys doing some good things behind the steering wheel and getting the job done there.”

Busch was true to his word on Friday afternoon. He led opening Sprint Cup practice with a lap at 191.442 mph, more than two miles-per-hour faster than Joey Logano’s 2013 track qualifying record of 189.414 mph. That was good enough to give him the pole as qualifying later in the day was rained out and the starting grid for Sunday was set by the opening practice.

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