Kyle Busch called it “ugly”, but it was good enough for NASCAR work. Busch won his eighth pole of the season Friday night putting down a lap of 28.203, 135.049 miles per hour with just over a minute and half left in the final five minutes to win the top spot for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ISM Connect 300.
It was the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s eighth pole of the season, his third at New Hampshire, and his second consecutive one having won the pole at the opening round of NASCAR’s Playoffs last week at Chicagoland. A race that saw him suffer several issues and finish 15th.
“Being able to start up front, it’d be nice to stay up front all day and limit our mistakes and not have any of those and be able to carry on and go to victory lane on Sunday,” Busch said. “So this is a good place for us and the weather is going to warmer – more like a July race – and we run better here in July than we typically do in September, so hopefully that will bode a little bit for us in the 18 car this weekend.”
Busch led the first round, but had to overcome a bit of adversity in the second getting out of the groove on his first lap and aborting the run. He cleaned his tires however and made a second lap grabbing sixth and advancing to the final round.
“When that happened, I gave myself too much room on my left sides trying to keep them in the black on entry,” Busch said. “It was like half a car too wide to the right. I was nervous. I thought I was 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and 24-ing (Chase Elliott) it there for a second (both crashed in Friday’s lone practice), but just was able to hang on to it surprisingly and was able to battle through on the backstretch and just ease her off into (Turn) 3 and then build my lap back up getting back to start-finish line, so it all worked out.”
“So knew we were going to have a shot for the pole – just wasn’t sure if we could get it and for ugly as that session looked or felt from my vantage point, it certainly worked out.”
Kyle Larson held the provisional pole for about 20 seconds until Busch’s run; he will start second Sunday.
Fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, who won here in July, was running a lap good enough to steal the pole from Busch, but lost time in the final turn and had to settle for third.
“Just got a little bit tight,” Hamlin said. “I had a few more laps on my tires as well as those other guys, but overall still three top-three starting spots in a row. I mean, things are going well. We’re running well. We’re putting ourselves in position to win each week and that’s pretty much all we can ask for. We’ll race her from there and see how it goes.”
Ryan Blaney, who led the second round, will start fourth.
“I felt like maybe I got in the corner a little hot and got myself a little bit too loose and to the brakes too hard,” Larson said. “But, I feel like overall my lap was pretty good. The No. 18 (Kyle Busch) has been really fast recently, and especially in qualifying all year. So, for us to be second to him is not bad. We had the pole here earlier in the year and got encumbered, but we had to back it up with a front row start. It feels good.”
Blaney is followed in fifth by last week’s winner Martin Truex Jr. who made his single lap with only seconds to spare.
Kevin Harvick will start sixth, followed by Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth rounding out the top 10. Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson, in a backup car, were the final two drivers to advance.
In all 11 of the top 12 starters are Playoff drivers. The remaining five Playoff drivers: Brad Keselowski starts 13th, Chase Elliott, also in a backup car, 14th, Austin Dillon 17th, Ryan Newman 18th and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 24th.
In his final race at New Hampshire, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 15th.
Several teams had issues making it through pre-qualifying inspection, but all were able to make it out in time to qualify with the lone exception of Joey Logano. He cleared inspection but with too little time left in the first round, his crew opted to not try a qualifying run; Logano will start 39th Sunday. With only 39 entries no team was sent home.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ISM Connect 300 will get the green flag just after 2:00 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.