When the clock hit all zeros on the final round of Sprint Cup Series qualifying Thursday night, the usually even-keeled Dave Rogers almost sounded excited:
“The fastest boys in Charlotte!” Rogers said to his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team over the team’s radio.
Their driver, Kyle Busch, was on his way to Victory Lane after winning the pole for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch was fifth fastest in the first round and fourth fastest in the second before besting Jeff Gordon in the third round for the pole.
The pole is Busch’s fourth of the season and second in the past five races. He has started no worse than seventh so far in the Chase.
“It seemed like the guy that was the most consistent was able to win the pole tonight,” Busch said. “I felt pretty good about all (three rounds).
“Dave made some really good adjustments this time – you have to adjust on these things for these qualifying runs. The track changes just a little bit, but the car and the tires change, too.”
Busch is winless in 21 starts in his career at Charlotte and a victory would go a long way toward giving him a chance to earn his first Cup series championship. His third-place finish last weekend at Kansas – a track on which he usually struggles – has already put him in a strong position to advance to Round 3 of the Chase.
“We have been working really hard at Joe Gibbs Racing to get ourselves up to the level of our competition this season,” Busch said. “Anything happens. A few guys last week had a bad race.
“All the pieces have been coming together and coming together at the right time. When they do, you can do great things. I just hope it continues.”
JGR teammate Denny Hamlin qualified third, Tony Stewart was fourth (tied for his second-best start of the year) and Ryan Newman was fifth. Joey Logano, the current points leader and only driver locked into Round 3, will line up 13th.
Busch’s older brother, Kurt, actually set the track qualifying record with an average lap speed of 198.771 mph in Round 2 of qualifying. He ended up 11th fastest in the final round.
“All in all, it was a good day,” Kurt Busch said. “You know, one cool thing is with the reduction of horsepower and downforce next year, the track record should stand for a while.
“It was a really cool feeling to go that fast. The car had a lot of speed in it, but it was just too tight in the final round.”
Busch’s lap is also the fastest qualifying lap at a 1.5-mile track in Cup series history. The previous record was set by Kevin Harvick in April at Texas Motor Speedway (198.282 mph).
Trevor Bayne, who will move full time to the Cup series next season with Roush Fenway Racing, was the only driver who failed to make the 43-car field.
Bayne, who has run several Cup races with the Wood Brothers this season, was attempting to make the race in Roush’s No. 6 car.
Reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson struggled in qualifying for the second consecutive week. He abandoned his first qualifying run in Round 1 when his car got loose and failed to advance to Round 3. He will start 21st.