Kurt Busch leads Stewart-Haas sweep in Talladega qualifying

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 13: Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford, poses with the pole award after qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 13, 2018 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images)

All four Stewart-Haas Racing cars were amply endowed with speed for Saturday’s knockout qualifying session at Talladega Superspeedway.

Kurt Busch was just glad he got the pick of the litter.

“Four Stewart-Haas Fords—I’m really happy that I got the fast one,” Busch quipped after winning the pole for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and lead an SHR sweep of the top four starting spots for the second race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of 16.

The Busch Pole Award was Busch’s fifth of the season and the 27th of his career. What’s more, his final-round lap at 195.804 mph (48.906 seconds) ended a quest dating to his first race in the Cup series in 2000.

“We’re on the pole!” Busch said. “This is my first restrictor-plate pole ever. Ever! It took me almost 20 years. I got one!”

Busch beat teammate Clint Bowyer (195.301 mph) for the top starting spot by .126 seconds, a huge margin relative to the rest of the top 12. Kevin Harvick (195.186 mph) qualified third, followed by Aric Almirola (194.571 mph).

“With Stewart-Haas cars 1-2-3-4 at this race in the Playoffs, it really sets the tone,” Busch said. “Now we’ve got to execute on Sunday.”

The time trials, however, were a tale of two organizations, not just one. Behind the four SHR entries were all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers, with last week’s Dover winner, Chase Elliott, leading the way into the fifth starting position. Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman and William Byron were close behind.

“With all four guys in the top-12, it’s a strong showing for us,” said Byron, whose lap time of 49.420 seconds (193.768 mph) was identical to Bowman’s. “That should be good for Sunday. Qualifying doesn’t reflect totally on how things will shake out Sunday and how you are going to race. But it should be fine.

“With the four of us together at the start, we have an opportunity to stay in front of some of the possible situations, but you don’t control much out there, and everything gets so shuffled during the race, it’s hard to know. But I feel good about where we are right now. We’ll see what happens.”

All four SHR drivers are competing for the series championship. Elliott and Bowman are still title contenders for Hendrick.

Playoff driver Kyle Busch qualified ninth in the fastest Toyota, with reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. claiming the 11th starting position.

“You always want to make the second round, and you hope you can do a little better,” said Truex, who has never won a restrictor-plate race. “We thought we picked up some speed, and we gained one spot, beat the 17 (12th place qualifier Ricky Stenhouse Jr.).

“Better than none, and we’ll go get them tomorrow.”

The remaining four Playoff drivers qualified as follows: Brad Keselowski 18th, Ryan Blaney 19th, Joey Logano 20th and Kyle Larson 34th.

With the Playoff field set to be cut from 12 drivers to eight on Oct. 21 at Kansas Speedway, Bowyer and Almirola currently are tied for ninth in the standings, 10 points below the cut line.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying Results 1000Bulbs.com 500

Talladega Superspeedway

Talladega, Alabama

Saturday, October 13, 2018

1. (41)  Kurt Busch (P), Ford, 195.804 mph.

2. (14)  Clint Bowyer (P), Ford, 195.301 mph.

3. (4)  Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 195.186 mph.

4. (10)  Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 194.571 mph.

5. (9)  Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 194.397 mph.

6. (48)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 194.172 mph.

7. (88)  Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 193.768 mph.

8. (24)  William Byron #, Chevrolet, 193.768 mph.

9. (18)  Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 193.693 mph.

10. (11)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 193.380 mph.

11. (78)  Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 192.928 mph.

12. (17)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 192.827 mph.

13. (19)  Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 192.564 mph.

14. (34)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 192.509 mph.

15. (20)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 192.162 mph.

16. (38)  David Ragan, Ford, 191.996 mph.

17. (43)  Darrell Wallace Jr. #, Chevrolet, 191.935 mph.

18. (2)  Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 191.900 mph.

19. (12)  Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 191.731 mph.

20. (22)  Joey Logano (P), Ford, 191.386 mph.

21. (3)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 191.195 mph.

22. (31)  Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 191.172 mph.

23. (47)  AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 190.985 mph.

24. (6)  Trevor Bayne, Ford, 190.981 mph.

25. (95)  Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 190.662 mph.

26. (37)  Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 190.651 mph.

27. (32)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 189.940 mph.

28. (62)  Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 189.706 mph.

29. (13)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 189.699 mph.

30. (21)  Paul Menard, Ford, 189.658 mph.

31. (1)  Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 189.500 mph.

32. (23)  JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 189.380 mph.

33. (7)  DJ Kennington(i), Chevrolet, 189.234 mph.

34. (42)  Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 188.731 mph.

35. (96)  Jeffrey Earnhardt, Toyota, 188.367 mph.

36. (15)  Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 186.969 mph.

37. (00)  Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, 186.696 mph.

38. (99)  Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 186.627 mph.

39. (51)  Cody Ware, Chevrolet, 183.136 mph.

40. (72)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

1 drivers failed to qualify.

41. (97)  David Starr(i), Toyota, 185.880 mph.

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