Story By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LOUDON, NH – Early bird Kurt Busch ran his best lap of the day in the final round of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to earn the top starting spot for Sunday’s Foxwoods 301 (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The first driver on the track for decisive Round 3, Busch covered the one-mile distance in 28.511 seconds (133.591 mph) to edge reigning series champion Martin Turex Jr. by .019 seconds. Truex will start from the front row for the seventh time this season.
“I don’t want to second-guess anything, so when the crew chief (Billy Scott) says ‘Go,’ you just go,” said Busch, who won his first Busch Pole Award in 35 races at the Magic Mile, his third of the season and the 25th of his career. “I like the way we made the right changes through each of the rounds, and we stuck to a game plan.
“That’s exactly what you hope to have each time you go to qualifying, where you don’t have to deviate away from the plan you set in place.”
In fact, the three rounds of qualifying for Busch followed a script that had written before the first round began.
“We discussed it, and the call was made back at the hauler before the qualifying session started,” Busch said. “it was almost like a non-discussion. It was ‘This is what’s going to happen in Round 1, this is what’s going to happen in Round 2, and here’s what’s going to happen in Round 3’—and we stuck to our plan.”
Truex felt he lost what could have been a pole-winning run in the first corner.
“I just missed Turn 1 just slightly there in that last run on the first lap, but overall lit was a solid day,” Truex said. “We had a decent practice – a short practice, you know, because we waited a little bit for the VHT (traction compound) to kind of get run in, and we went out there and ran and were probably a little bit off further on balance more than we needed to be at the end of practice.
“So made some changes for qualifying, and the guys did a good job of getting it right and we were close. So couple thousandths, a few inches here or there in a different spot on the race track and might have been able to make it up, but a solid effort for us, and we can go get them on Sunday from second.”
Led by his brother, Kyle Busch, Toyota drivers occupied the top five positions in Round 2, but Kurt Busch broke the monopoly in the round that counted in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Kyle Busch ended up third, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, as Camry drivers claimed positions two through four on the grid.
Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman earned the eighth starting position in the fastest Chevrolet.
“To come here and qualify a solid top 10 means the car is probably a whole lot better than that, which is a good thing for me come Sunday,” said Bowman, who entered this race weekend with an average starting position at Loudon of 30.8 and previous best qualifying effort of 18th.
With Erik Jones earning the seventh position and Daniel Suarez qualifying ninth, JGR drivers placed all four cars in the top 10. Surprisingly, Busch was the only Stewart Haas driver to make the cut for the 12-driver final round.
The Team Penske Fords of Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski will start fifth and sixth, respectively, on Sunday.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – Foxwoods Resort Casino 301
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Loudon, New Hampshire
Friday, July 20, 2018
1. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 133.591 mph.
2. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 133.502 mph.
3. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 133.431 mph.
4. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 133.361 mph.
5. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 132.720 mph.
6. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 132.715 mph.
7. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 132.674 mph.
8. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 132.618 mph.
9. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 132.581 mph.
10. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 132.462 mph.
11. (24) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 132.383 mph.
12. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 132.190 mph.
13. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 132.586 mph.
14. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 132.554 mph.
15. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 132.402 mph.
16. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 132.379 mph.
17. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 132.259 mph.
18. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 132.200 mph.
19. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 132.094 mph.
20. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 132.039 mph.
21. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 131.925 mph.
22. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 131.738 mph.
23. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 131.447 mph.
24. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 131.238 mph.
25. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 131.247 mph.
26. (95) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 130.954 mph.
27. (43) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, 130.860 mph.
28. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 130.783 mph.
29. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 130.568 mph.
30. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 130.532 mph.
31. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 130.483 mph.
32. (15) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 129.213 mph.
33. (72) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 129.151 mph.
34. (00) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 129.134 mph.
35. (99) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 127.577 mph.
36. (51) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 127.555 mph.
37. (23) Blake Jones, Toyota, 124.556 mph.