LOUDON, N.H. — Kyle Busch is in good shape to sprint into the second round of NASCAR’s playoffs.
Busch will start Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on the pole. He started the playoffs last week with a stage win at Chicagoland Speedway. He is in fifth place, 41 points behind playoff leader Martin Truex Jr.
The No. 18 was the class of the field in qualifying on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In the final session, Busch ripped around the track at 135.049 miles per hour to grab his garage-best eighth pole of the season. Busch turned one of those poles into a checkered flag at Pocono Raceway.
“It certainly feels pretty good to capitalize on another good Friday,” Busch said. “We need to somehow figure out how to turn these things into good Sundays.”
Busch has two Loudon wins in 25 career appearances. He last visited Victory Lane at NHMS on July 19, 2015, one of the triumphs that paved the way to his first NASCAR championship. Busch finished 12th in July’s Overton 301, partly because he was nabbed twice for speeding on pit road.
Busch has company when it comes to goofs in such territory. Busch won last week’s pole and nabbed the first segment. But he finished 15th after his pit crew failed to tighten one of his wheels after a change. The team also erred by sending its gas man over the wall too soon.
The mistakes happened in the first week of a crew change. To start the playoffs, Joe Gibbs Racing replaced Busch’s crew with that of teammate Daniel Suarez. The crew will have to perform better on Sunday to justify the swap.
“I don’t think any adjustments have to be made,” Busch said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out the way we hoped and expected it to. Even mediocre stops would have been all right.”
Kyle Larson will join Busch on the front row after wheeling around the track at 134.911 m.p.h.
Larson scored the pole for July’s Overton’s 301. But Larson started the race at the back of the field. The No. 42 failed qualifying because of an unapproved deck fin lid. Truex started the race on the pole following Larson’s banishment to the back. Even with his back-of-the-pack start, Larson powered his Chevrolet to a second-place finish.
“We had to come back and pass a lot of cars,” Larson said of the July race. “Hopefully we can maintain our track position this time around and get a good finish.”
It was not a good day for two of Hendrick Motorsports’s four teams. During his second lap of his first practice run, Jimmie Johnson lost control of the No. 48 in Turn 3, sending the car into the wall. Later in the session, Chase Elliott also deposited his No. 24 into the wall.
Both drivers, who are in playoff contention, had to steer their primary cars to their haulers and unload their backup machines.
The No. 48 team had to hustle to submit the car through pre-qualifying inspection. But Johnson made the most out of his No. 2 piece in the first qualifying session, when he posted a 133.633-m.p.h. lap, second-fastest after Busch (134.544). Johnson will start in 12th position after going 131.989 in the final qualifying window.
Elliott will start two places behind his teammate after failing to advance into the final round. Elliott is coming off a checkered finish in Chicago, and not of the good variety.
NASCAR tagged the No. 24 team with a 15-point penalty because of modification of components to affect the car’s aerodynamics. The penalty dropped Elliott to eighth place in the standings. Crew chief Alan Gustafson and car chief Joshua Kirk have been suspended for Sunday’s race.
Joey Logano, who considers Loudon his home track, will start in last place. The native of Middletown, Conn., didn’t take a single qualifying lap because his team could not get the No. 22 Ford through inspection. Logano is not a playoff driver.