Kyle Busch secured the pole position in Saturday evening qualifying for the NASCAR All-Star Race, emerging from a unique format with an elimination-style bracket at Texas Motor Speedway.
Busch ousted Ryan Blaney in a head-to-head battle for the pole, with his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team completing a four-tire pit stop, and Busch getting a solid launch and prevailing in the race off pit road and a lap back to the checkered flag in the final matchup.
“Anytime you’re able to showcase the pit crew’s ability and have them and their athleticism in this competition, in this qualifying format, I enjoy that,” said Busch, the 2017 All-Star winner. “I think that’s my most favorite part of the year is coming to the All-Star Race, and whether it’s been Charlotte and coming down pit road and sliding into the box and whatnot. But having those guys go over the wall certainly means a lot, especially the No. 18 bunch that I’ve had a lot of success with over the years. It’s obviously changed up a few times, most recently, but you know, we’ve always been a threat to be reckoned with when it comes to getting on the pole for the All-Star Race. So it feels good to have that today.”
Said No. 18 crew chief Ben Beshore: “It’s something new, a good way to showcase our pit crew. They did a great job. They put in a lot of hard work this offseason and throughout the beginning of the year and they clicked off three really good stops there and got it. So that’s exciting.”
Blaney will start second in Sunday’s All-Star Race (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford. William Byron, defending race winner Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch complete the top five starting spots in order.
The 20 drivers who are already locked into the All-Star Race first made single-lap qualifying runs, with Byron claiming the top seed as the fastest from that session. The fastest eight drivers were placed into an elimination bracket, with the over-the-wall crews getting involved in the second session to vie for the pole. Aric Almirola claimed the eighth and final slot in the bracket, edging ninth-fastest Joey Logano during the single-lap time trials.
Byron, Blaney, Larson and Kyle Busch emerged from the first-round matchups. Byron outdistanced Almirola, getting a jump off the green light in the opener. Blaney sped away from Ross Chastain out of the pit box in the second matchup. Larson got the better of Kurt Busch in their first-round showdown, a speedy pit stop being the key for the defending Cup Series champ. Kyle Busch cruised past Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr., whose crew had trouble on the left-side change during the pit-stop segment.
Blaney defeated Byron in the first semifinal, and Kyle Busch outlasted Larson — who stalled off the starting line — in the other second-round clash to make the final.
Larson’s stumble essentially guaranteed Busch’s advance to the final round. Larson managed a smile and shook his head acknowledging his mistake in qualifying.
“I feel good (about my chances in the race), I felt like my car was decent, there was room to improve it, but I feel we’re in the ballpark to compete for the win,” Larson said. “Gotta do a better job executing than I did just then and hopefully we’ll have a good shot.”
“I just stalled it,” he said of the miscue. “I didn’t want to spin my tires too bad and obviously got a little too greedy and just stalled it. Embarrassing, it’s embarrassing, I’m the only guy that stalled so pretty embarrassing.”
Tyler Reddick claims pole for All-Star Open
Tyler Reddick grabbed the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Open qualifying race (5:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) at Texas Motor Speedway.
Reddick put his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet atop the speed charts at 186.981 mph in Saturday evening’s single-lap qualifying. Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suárez will share the front row after recording the second-fastest lap at 186.903 mph in the No. 99 Chevy.
Reddick said in a post-qualifying interview with FOX Sports that he’ll drop to the back during pace laps for Sunday’s Open, indicating that his RCR crew will need to make adjustments to the No. 8 Chevy before Sunday’s race.
The 16 drivers not already qualified for the NASCAR All-Star Race main event will attempt to race their way in during the 50-lap Open. The three Open stage winners will advance to the feature, with a fourth driver added to the All-Star starting lineup as the top vote-getter from fan balloting on NASCAR.com.
Denny Hamlin topped the chart in a 20-minute practice for the All-Star Race, posting a lap of 187.253 mph in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Kyle Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was second-fastest, with Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. finishing out the top five.
Reddick was also fastest (185.829 mph) in a 15-minute practice for the All-Star Open.
Contributing: Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service