By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
HAMPTON, Ga. – Kurt Busch fell just short of beating brother Kyle Busch on the track during Friday’s time trials at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Kyle Busch covered the 1.54-mile distance in 28.925 seconds 191.668 mph) in the money round of knockout qualifying for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX), beating his older brother by .013 seconds.
But the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota failed post-qualifying inspection, and his time was disallowed. That gave Kurt Busch his first Coors Light Pole Award at Atlanta in the first event contested this year with the lower-downforce competition package that will be in place at all open-motor race tracks.
Kurt Busch was remarkably consistent in each of the three rounds, running 191.635 mph in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in both the first and second sessions and 191.582 mph in the third.
“It was a good, consistent car and I hope that translates into race speed as well,” Kurt Busch said. “But thanks to (crew chief) Tony Gibson and everybody at Stewart-Haas.
“It’s a matter of preparing the best car during the offseason to come to these 1.5-mile tracks and seeing what you’ve got. It’s just great to feel this right away with the speed and the energy from the car.”
Kurt Busch also lauded NASCAR for the inspection process that ultimately put him on the pole.
“Overall, with the way the developments came up from tech inspection, this shows the amount of enforcement that NASCAR is ready to apply to their technical procedures on what a car has to do to comply to all specs,” he said.
The disqualification to Kyle Busch—because his car failed the rear toe measurement on NASCAR’s laser platform—put Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (190.130 mph) on the outside of the front row for the start of Sunday’s race.
“I’m really proud of everyone at the entire shop,” McMurray said. “When you come to a 1.5-mile track you’re really depending on your car. And our 1.5-mile program last year wasn’t where it needed to be. They put a lot of effort into it.
Like I said during Speedweeks and all the offseason, this is where you really need to be good. The No. 42 car (teammate Kyle Larson) was fast in practice. He got really loose, it looked like, in his qualifying laps. But then, we were really good as well. So I’m proud of the effort by everybody on the McDonald’s Chevrolet. We’re off to a good start at the 1.5-mile tracks, which is critical.”
Trevor Bayne (189.987 mph) qualified third, beating by 15 positions his previous best starting spot at an open-motor race track (18th last year at Darlington).
“This season, we’re really looking forward to this low-downforce package, as we’ve talked about over the off-season,” Bayne said. “We felt like our best races were at the low downforce tracks, Kentucky and Darlington (last year’s two trial runs), so everybody that’s wondering what’s going on at Roush Fenway Racing—a lot of hard work and a lot of attention to detail.
“We had a meeting last week talking about execution. Everybody’s intentions are right. Everybody wants to go fast. Everybody wants to win races, but now we’ve got to execute and make sure we make these fast Fords last.”
Ryan Newman was fourth fastest, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Carl Edwards. Denny Hamlin, last Sunday’s Daytona 500 winner, will start 12th.
Kyle Busch must take the green flag from the rear of the field.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
1. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 191.582 mph.
2. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 190.130 mph.
3. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 189.987 mph.
4. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 189.961 mph.
5. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 189.863 mph.
6. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 189.779 mph.
7. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 189.766 mph.
8. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 189.681 mph.
9. (78) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 189.364 mph.
10. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, 188.591 mph.
11. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 187.196 mph.
12. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 190.385 mph.
13. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 190.260 mph.
14. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 190.182 mph.
15. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 190.150 mph.
16. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 189.818 mph.
17. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 189.144 mph.
18. (14) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 189.138 mph.
19. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 188.790 mph.
20. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 188.719 mph.
21. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 188.713 mph.
22. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 188.636 mph.
23. (21) Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 187.449 mph.
24. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 189.390 mph.
25. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 189.079 mph.
26. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 189.041 mph.
27. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 188.565 mph.
28. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 188.028 mph.
29. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 187.837 mph.
30. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 187.392 mph.
31. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 187.120 mph.
32. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 185.903 mph.
33. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 185.778 mph.
34. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 185.617 mph.
35. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 185.499 mph.
36. (98) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 184.039 mph.
37. (30) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 183.820 mph.
38. (32) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, 180.769 mph.
39. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 0.000 mph.
Image: Matt Hazlett/Getty Images