Driving down pit road, heading back onto the track and in contention for the lead, Busch is used to seeing the pole-sitter gun the engine just off the jack and reassume the race lead.
Busch hopes to finally get to experience that for himself at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday after earning the pole at NASCAR’s smallest, tightest track for the first time in 19 career starts.
“I think that’s a great thing for us,” Busch said after winning the pole with a lap at 99.674 mph. “We get to pit there and of course drop the jack and just lunge across the line and be good.
“You need to still run up front all day. I think that it’s a great opportunity for us to pick up some spots say if we’re second, third, fourth, whatever, but you definitely always want to stay as close to the front as you can and try not to use that box as much as some guys have in the past.”
The pole is the 14th of Busch’s career.
In an interesting twist under NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying system, Busch won it while Joey Logano set a track record. That came at 100.201 mph during the first phase of two-session qualifying. All 44 cars competed in the 30-minute first session, and the top 12 moved into the 10-minute phase two.
Denny Hamlin earned the No. 2 starting spot with a lap at 99.548 mph, and will be followed on the starting grid by Logano and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. That puts Busch in some pretty accomplished company because Hamlin (four wins), Johnson and Gordon (eight each) have been very successful at the track.
Danica Patrick qualified 10th, her best starting spot in a race not held at Daytona. Her previous best starting position was 21st, accomplished twice last season.
Busch, though, is coming off a victory last week at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., and while he said it wasn’t dominating, it gave him hope that the Joe Gibbs Racing teams are coming together.
“It just seems to be working well right now, whatever is working,” he said.
Hamlin, who promised earlier in the day that he would win on Sunday, wasn’t in love with the outside starting spot because it can be tricky to get down to the bottom on restarts from the outside, said nothing that happened in practice or qualifying made his change his view of how it can all unfold.
“I knew, even going into this weekend, I knew we were going to be really good contenders and be in the mix anyway,” he said. “I feel like after running a couple laps of practice I felt like this was a car that was capable of winning. I think with tire management being more of a factor than it’s ever been, it kind of lends itself to my driving style even more. For that reason I think we’ll be tough on Sunday.”
Logano has two top-10 finishes on the 0.526-mile oval, but none since 2010.
“So we’ve got a track record, but we don’t have a pole. How does that work?” he asked.
A solid pit position, he said, could help turns things around on Sunday.
“Obviously, the pit stall is very important, especially here. It’s a dangerous pit road, so you want to get a nice spot you can get in and out of, but obviously here it’s a slow pit road and you can make up a lot with timing lines on pit road,” he said. “For that reason alone it’s big, and that’s worth multiple spots throughout the race when you’re thinking about making a lot of pit stops.”