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BUSCH LEADS 200 MPH BLITZ IN CUP QUALIFYING AT TMS
By John Sturbin
If you weren’t cranking out a qualifying lap at 200-plus mph Friday afternoon around Texas Motor Speedway, you were relatively slow.
Welcome to Club 200!
Kurt Busch led a five-driver assault on the 200 mph barrier with a track-record lap in 26.877 seconds at 200.915 mph. Busch, a free-agent at Stewart-Haas Racing, secured his first Coors Light Pole Award of the season and second in 30 races at TMS .
Busch’s hot lap broke the previous record set by retired three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart - co-owner of Kurt’s car - of 26.985-seconds/200.111 mph set in November 2014. Busch was among five drivers who eclipsed Stewart’s former record.
“Yeah, that’s pretty neat to hear we were over 200 mph average speed for a lap time at a 1.5-mile track,” said Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion. “It was really neat, the way today unfolded for us. Right before I jumped in the car I saw an old friend and he had his two sons with him and they were in awe. They were on pit road checking it all out for qualifying and I winked at both of them and said it was going to be over 200 mph today.
“I was able to back it up, so now I feel impressed. It was a nice pole run. I’m really happy for (crew chief) Tony Gibson. It’s his birthday. And I’m really happy for everyone on the No. 41 car.”
The fastest lap ever run on a 1.5-mile layout gave Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, his 22nd career pole. Joining Busch on the front row and Club 200 was Playoff contender Denny Hamlin at 26.917 seconds and 200.617 mph in his No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry.
Kevin Harvick, Busch’s SHR teammate, will start third after lapping at 200.378 mph in the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford. He will start alongside Erik Jones, who lapped at 200.326 mph in the No. 77 Sport Clips Toyota. Rounding out the top five and the 200 breakers was Kyle Busch, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, at 200.252 mph in the No. 18 M&Ms Caramel Toyota.
So, what does a lap at over 200 mph feel like on a 1.5-mile layout? Scary fast? And what does that portend for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500?
“(Turns) 3 and 4 are an incredible sensation,” Busch said. “Once the car goes into the banking it travels. The suspension collapses in the car and the car gets lower to the ground and picks up speed because you are lower to the ground and have less drag. It’s a sensation that’s hard to describe. When you have that grip level in the car it gives you the feeling that you can just put it down to the floor and there won’t be any consequences.
“Turns 1 and 2 are where I think the lap times come from. If you can get it to hook and stay right on the bottom because that end of the track is a lot flatter. You have to back out of the gas all the way. Then in (Turns) 3 and 4 you can hold it wide open. Both ends of the track are very different. It’s a cool sensation going through 3 and 4 almost holding it wide open.”
The entire layout was repaved last offseason, with the banking in Turns 1 and 2 reconfigured from 24 to 20 degrees. That area also was widened from 60 feet to 80 feet to allow for more passing. The banking in Turns 3 and 4 still is banked at 24 degrees.
Hamlin said these speeds logically can be traced to the ongoing development of the entire Cup package.
"I mean, that's the biggest thing is just the development,” Hamlin said, “and trust me, I don't know of any driver that was comfortable running the speeds that we're running right now. Kevin Harvick walked by as soon as that was over, he's like, ‘I'm glad that’s over.’ Like, it's crazy speed. You know, you felt it at Michigan when we were qualifying, average over 200, but here it's just…I mean, it feels way faster yet. So yeah, the big ones (crashes) will be big here for sure because of the speeds; I don't know that it was anticipated.
“Any time you do testing at a race track like this, there's never enough rubber to get the speeds up where they're really going to be, and I think it's just the tire gripped the track just enough, it cooled down and went shade there at the end, which picked the track speed up. But hopefully with this big turn in weather tomorrow, we're going to get these speeds back to a comfortable range."
Playoff contender Martin Truex Jr., who trails Busch by 17 points heading into the second race of the Round of 8, qualified seventh at 199.431 mph in the No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Toyota. Truex Jr. will share Row 4 with Playoff contender Ryan Blaney, who qualified at 199.380 mph in the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford.
Seven-time and defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will start ninth after a lap at 198.727 mph in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS. Johnson shares Row 5 with fellow Playoff entrant Brad Keselowski at 198.478 mph in the No. 2 Wurth Ford.
Playoff contender Chase Elliott, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, will start 34th in the 40-car field in the No. 24 Hooters Chevy SS, the first of seven drivers who did not record a lap during three rounds of knockout qualifying.