NASCAR: Kyle Busch, with help from rain, gets pole for Chase opener

As the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup is set to kick off this weekend, Kyle Busch said he was anxious for circumstances to begin to “go the right way” for he and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team.

Apparently, Mother Nature was listening.

Persistent rain Friday afternoon canceled the first knockout qualifying session of the Chase and the lineup for Sunday’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway was set by Friday’s practice speeds.

That handed the pole position to Busch, who posted the fastest average lap speed of the session on the final of his 21 practice laps.

“Practice went pretty well after starting a little slow. Having a good (speed) in practice means a lot but obviously a lot of things need to go right in the race,” Busch said.

“Today was a little bit better practice session for us and for Matt (Kenseth). We jumped up on the leaderboard late. That’s where we want to be and where we feel like we should be.”

Ryan Newman will start second, Carl Edwards third, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth.

The starting position for the rest of the 12 drivers competing in the Chase: Jimmie Johnson (seventh), Jeff Gordon (eighth), Kevin Harvick (12th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (13th), Kurt Busch (14th), A.J. Allmendinger (17th), Kasey Kahne (19th), Greg Biffle (20th), Aric Almirola (23rd), Denny Hamlin (24th), Brad Keselowski (25th) and Joey Logano (28th).

The pole was an unexpected bonus for Busch, who has not had a stellar season. His only win came at Fontana, Calif., and he has led fewer laps (365) than any previous full-time season in the Cup series.

His 14th-place finish last weekend at Richmond, Va., was his best performance since he was second at Indianapolis in July.

“We’ve had some not-so-great runs, but still I think we’ve been working through all the mistakes that we’ve made,” said Busch.

“We’ve been discussing different things as a team that we can do better and what we can work on to overcome those things that have taken us down the last month or so.”

Regardless of his starting position, Busch said he has been looking forward to the first three-race segment of the Chase – and in particular the Chicagoland race – for a boost in performance.

“I’m looking forward to the Chase starting here in Chicago where we ran well last year – we finished second and had a chance to win,” he said.

“Then again at Loudon (N.H.), it was the same thing. We finished second and had a chance to win there as well last year and did that again this spring. Dover is always a good place for us, too.”

Kenseth, who is one of three drivers in the Chase without a win this season, certainly finds himself off to a good start as well.

He won the first two races of the Chase last year on his way to a runner-up finish in the series championship battle. Starting in the top five Sunday can’t hurt.

“I feel like we’ve been getting closer and we’ve been running in the top five a lot. All the finishes don’t show it because we’ve been caught up in so many accidents this year,” Kenseth said.

“I feel good about it. We don’t have the wins to show for it yet, but I really think – I could be wrong – but I really think we’re going to win some races yet this year.”

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