Kyle Busch did nothing to silence the Toyota haters Friday night. Busch turned a lap of 28.729, 187.963 miles per hour, a full mile per hour faster than second place near the halfway point of the final round, to win the pole for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, the first race of NASCAR’s 10 race championship playoffs.
Busch led Friday’s lone practice session, then led the first two rounds Friday in route to his seventh pole of the season, his first at Chicagoland, and the 26th of his career.
Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin will start second followed by regular season champion Martin Truex Jr. in third. Kevin Harvick in a Ford will roll off fourth, followed by Brad Keselowski who earlier Friday was critical of the advantage Toyota’s seem to have, in fifth.
Keselowski’s criticism of Toyota, and NASCAR, continued after his fifth-place run as he pointed out that nothing in the past few weeks has changed his view.
“Other than NASCAR’s complete ineptitude to level the playing field which is the precedent that has been set the last few years. Other than that, no,” Keselowski said. “There are natural cycles where cars, teams, manufacturers whatever go up and down. At the start of the year we were at the top of the cycle. And at this moment we are not where we need to be. With respect to that, we were at the top and it seemed like there were a lot of rules changes us to slow us down and now you have cars that are so much faster than the field and the complete ineptitude by anybody. That is frustrating because parity is either good or it is bad. I don’t care either way. But when you are at the top you like being at the top, everybody likes being at the top.”
Busch did nothing to quell the growing feud.
“It’s because I’m in a Toyota, that’s why right?” Busch quipped when asked where he found the speed for the pole. “Just great adjustments there because we were kind of free there the first couple of runs and were trying to get the balance there and the last run our balance was way better and we were able to attack it and get the most out of it. That’s all she had.”
The only drama of the three rounds was a solo spin by Erik Jones with just over five minutes left in the second round. Suffering were Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney both of whom were on the track behind Jones when he spun in turn 3. Both drivers had to abort their runs. Larson recovered to grab sixth, Blaney ran out of fuel during the third round and had to settle for the 12th starting spot.
In between, Joey Logano starts seventh, Chase Elliott eighth, Austin Dillon ninth, with Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer 10th and 11th.
In all 10 of the 16 drivers in the playoffs start in the top 12. The others: Jimmie Johnson will start 14th, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 15th, Ryan Newman 16th, Kurt Busch 17th, Jamie McMurray 19th, and Kasey Kahne 25th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his final Cup race at Chicagoland as a full-time driver will start 20th.
With 40 teams entered, no one was sent home.
As for the trash talk, Busch put it off to mind games.
“Probably, who cares, he’s (Brad Keselowski) an idiot anyways, we all know that,” Busch said. “Overall, I would say the biggest thing is that you don’t hear anyone else complaining like he is – it’s just one guy. We work on what we work on and we weren’t complaining when they were fast and they won the championship knowing what they were doing we had to go to work and figure it out. It just seems like those things aren’t happening. All in all, I just have to give thanks to our guys. They do the work and they do a great job, they build fast race cars and it’s fun to drive fast race cars.”