By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
MADISON, Ill. — Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series qualifying session at World Wide Technology Raceway broke a long dry spell for two-time series champion Kyle Busch.
Rocketing around the 1.25-mile irregularly shaped speedway in 32.802 seconds (137.187 mph), Busch won his first Cup pole position since Nov. 10, 2019, when he was first on the grid at Phoenix Raceway.
Earning his first Busch Light Pole Award for Richard Childress Racing, Busch edged Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney for the top starting spot by .008 seconds. Blaney, who had run the fastest lap of the day in the first round of time trials (32.797 seconds) clocked in a 137.153 mph in the money round.
“I haven’t been known as a great qualifier lately, apparently,” said Busch, who claimed the 33rd pole of his career. “Being able to get a pole here with Richard Childress Racing and Team Chevy and everybody with this No. 8 car is good for us just to try to get some momentum rolling.
“Our short-track stuff hasn’t been the greatest this year so far, but this isn’t the short=track aero package here this weekend, so that might pay dividends, hopefully, for us to have a better day than what we anticipated. Just excited to have the guys pumped up and raring to go and knowing that their hard work’s paying off.”
Busch credited improved performance in Turns 1 and 2 for his pole-winning lap.
“Being able to hit Turns 1 and 2, it seemed like that was where a lot of the speed was today,” Busch said. “But overall, the whole lap has to be put together. The adjustments we were making, the feedback I was able to give to (crew chief) Randall (Burnett) and the guys, they did a good job of being able to get me what I was looking for and make it better as we went.
“We saved the best for last there that last run.”
Blaney will start on the outside of the front row, but his team lost pit selection when his No. 12 Team Penske Ford failed inspection twice on Friday.
Denny Hamlin qualified third at 137.153 mph, followed by Kevin Harvick (136.866 mph) and Martin Truex Jr. (136.360 mph). Defending race winner Joey Logano, three-time 2023 winner William Byron, Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick and Austin Cindric will start from positions six through 10 on the grid, respectively.
Subbing for suspended Chase Elliott, Corey LaJoie qualified 30th. Carson Hocevar, who is taking LaJoie’s place in the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet, claimed the 26th starting spot.
Corey LaJoie gets a close-up look at how the other half lives
David, meet Goliath.
To say that Corey LaJoie’s first visit to the Hendrick Motorsports campus was an eye-opener is a colossal understatement of the case.
LaJoie got the word on Tuesday that he was team owner Rick Hendrick’s choice to replace Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Chevrolet at World Wide Technology Raceway, after Elliott drew a one-race suspension for wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s rain-delayed Coca-Cola 600.
What LaJoie found at Hendrick was a singular focus and an organization-wide dedication to the pursuit of perfection—and to winning races and championships.
LaJoie drives full-time for Spire Motorsports, which allowed LaJoie to advantage of the opportunity to drive for Hendrick on Sunday. After visiting the Hendrick shops, LaJoie sent a text to Spire co-owner Jeff Dickerson.
“’I can’t believe Spire and Hendrick race in the same series,’” LaJoie wrote.
“We are closer to a good truck team, I think… If that’s what a Cup team is, the holy cow, we’ve got a long way to go. But it’s fun sometimes to carry that chip on your shoulder and try to be the ones that are beating the Goliaths.
“But it’s definitely a cool opportunity and a cool week this week to be one of the Goliaths, sitting in one (of their cars), so we’ll see how it goes.”
LaJoie also believes his one-week stint in a Hendrick car will have lasting value.
“Man, I’ve been here for three days, and my philosophy of how I approach a weekend and how I prepare and how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire going forward is going to change,” he said.
“I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just share and apply some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week.”
Daytona 500 champion makes his pitch at Busch Stadium
Throwing out the first pitch Tuesday night at Busch Stadium wasn’t a unique experience for Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but it did give the Mississippi driver a chance to perform in front of the team he followed as a child.
“I grew up coming to Cardinals games when I was younger,” said Stenhouse, who also has done first-pitch honors at Fenway Park in Boston. “We would drive up to St. Louis, whether my dad would be racing around here that weekend. We would come up here, I remember, with some cousins and make a long weekend out of it—Cardinals games, watch Ozzie Smith play back in the day at the old stadium.
“It was really cool. It was really special to go out and do that. It wasn’t my best performance. I definitely threw a better strike at Fenway, but I guess you can’t throw all strikes.”
Stenhouse and his No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing team come to World Wide Technology Raceway riding a streak of seven straight races with finishes of 15th or better. After last year’s dismal 32nd-place finish at Gateway, Stenhouse is determined to do better this year.
“This weekend was the toughest weekend that we had last year,” he said. “The car—driving and speed—it just wasn’t what we needed it to be. So we’ve really focused a lot on getting the car right.
“I felt like we learned some stuff at Phoenix earlier in the year toward the end of the race that picked up the performance. So hopefully that will pay off when we get here this weekend. This place is just tough.”
Stenhouse qualified 12th in Saturday morning’s time trials.
NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter
World Wide Technology Raceway
Saturday, June 3, 2023
1. (8) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 137.187 mph.
2. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 137.153 mph.
3. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 136.903 mph.
4. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 136.766 mph.
5. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 136.360 mph.
6. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 136.339 mph.
7. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 136.240 mph.
8. (1) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 135.993 mph.
9. (45) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 135.788 mph.
10. (2) Austin Cindric, Ford, 135.530 mph.
11. (16) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
12. (47) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
13. (99) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
14. (21) Harrison Burton, Ford, 0.000 mph.
15. (54) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 0.000 mph.
16. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
17. (20) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 0.000 mph.
18. (48) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
19. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 0.000 mph.
20. (23) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 0.000 mph.
21. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 0.000 mph.
22. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
23. (31) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
24. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 0.000 mph.
25. (14) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 0.000 mph.
26. (7) Carson Hocevar(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
27. (17) Chris Buescher, Ford, 0.000 mph.
28. (38) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 0.000 mph.
29. (41) Ryan Preece, Ford, 0.000 mph.
30. (9) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
31. (43) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
32. (42) Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
33. (77) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
34. (78) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
35. (15) Gray Gaulding(i), Ford, 0.000 mph.
36. (51) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 0.000 mph.