Kyle Busch still looking for speed at Michigan

In the first round of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying on Friday, Kyle Busch got a nasty surprise.

His No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, which had been second on the speed chart in opening Cup practice, was inexplicably slow in the opening round of time trials. Busch was 23rd fastest in the session, barely transferring to the second round.

From that point on, the improvement was dramatic. Busch was second in Round 2 and third in the final round.

“The first round was a bit of a scare,” Busch acknowledged, “But the rest of it was OK. Just didn’t quite get it, but we got everything out of it there the third round. That was all she had, so I wish that we were a little bit faster.

We’re certainly missing just a little bit. It seems like it’s harder to hit it. Just looking at the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and the 20 (Erik Jones) and those guys, we’re not all as fast as we would like to be, so we’ve got to keep working on it.”

That attitude extended to Saturday’s rain-abbreviated practice session, in which Busch posted the seventh fastest speed (and second fastest 10-consecutive-lap average behind Kevin Harvick). But the 2015 series champion was looking for more.

“The car will be good in race trim, and if we keep the downforce in it, hopefully that’ll pay off better for us on race day—hopefully hot and sunny,” Busch said after rain ended the session.

SHORT STROKES

Kyle Larson struggled with a tight handling condition during Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying on Friday but appeared to have the issues resolved during Saturday morning’s practice. Larson was second in the session at 200.083 mph, behind only Kevin Harvick (200.719 mph). “That last run on tires—I thought we were as good as anybody except the 4 (Harvick),” Larson radioed to crew chief Chad Johnston. Seeking his fourth straight Cup victory at Michigan International Speedway, Larson will have to overcome a 26th-place starting position to get the job done…

Rain played havoc with Saturday’s track activity at Michigan. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, scheduled for 9:05 a.m. ET, started late and ended early, though Stewart-Haas Racing driver Aric Almirola managed to squeeze in a session-high 31 laps around the 2-mile track.

NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying was rained out—forcing the field to be ordered by the rule book, with Kyle Busch on pole on the basis of owner points. Rain likewise wiped out final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice.

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