Martin Truex Jr. wins qualifying, plus observations from Friday at Kansas Speedway

Martin Truex Jr., the NASCAR Cup Series playoff points leader, won qualifying and the pole for Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.
Martin Truex Jr., the NASCAR Cup Series playoff points leader, won qualifying and the pole for Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway. AP

Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway is the second playoff cutdown race, but there are other storylines swirling this weekend, too. Some observations from Friday at Kansas Speedway:

▪  Martin Truex Jr. qualified best and won the pole for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 on Friday, his third time doing so this season. Following him in second was Kevin Harvick (who won this race last year), then Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. Qualifying is extra important this week because it also goes toward determining pit stall selection for next weekend’s race at Martinsville.

▪  It’s been a rough two weeks for Kyle Busch, who was looking like a championship contender earlier in the playoffs. He crashed out at both Charlotte and Talladega, finishing 29th and 27th, respectively. Now he’s in danger of missing the third round of the playoffs entirely.

“It sucks that you work all year long in order to build your point cushion and your stage points and your race wins and everything for Talladega – because everybody knows for Talladega, we’re all building that for – and then I have Charlotte happen,” Busch said. “If we would’ve finished eighth, let’s say, at Charlotte, we wouldn’t be talking about it.”

▪  Kenseth learned earlier this season he wouldn’t be back at Joe Gibbs Racing next year, with Erik Jones taking over his No. 20. He has yet to announce where he’ll drive next season, although he’s joked about driving a school bus if nothing presents itself. Kenseth was asked Friday if there were any developments about his future team, but he said there’s still nothing new to report.

“Nothing beyond right now,” Kenseth said. “Feel like we have a lot yet to do in 2017.”

▪  Jimmie Johnson is on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs. Regardless of how his season ends, Johnson’s team at Hendrick Motorsports will look a lot different come next year. Instead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, Xfinity drivers Alex Bowman (24 years old) and William Byron (19) will join Johnson and Chase Elliott (21) to give the team a particularly young flavor.

“We kind of thought Dale would still be here, and then he made his announcement midway through the year,” Johnson said. “We’re in a position I think where it’s just circumstances and young guys are surrounding me.”

▪  Speaking of Johnson’s new teammates, a picture of them and Johnson posted to Twitter went viral this week. The photo, captioned ‘Just taking the kids to lunch,’ was also a topic of discussion on Friday, with Byron saying, “the funny part was supposed to be being in the car seats.” A cool moment for the younger guys to learn from Johnson, and for once they didn’t even go to Johnson’s new restaurant, Southbound.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks