In a Saturday qualifying session that provided validation that the cream rises to the top, Kyle Busch earned his first pole position of the season, as seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff drivers claimed the top seven positions on the grid.
Navigating one-mile ISM Raceway in a blistering 25.693 seconds 140.116 mph, Busch edged Joey Logano (139.752 mph) by .067 seconds for Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the race that will determine which four drivers will race for the series championship on Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Busch is currently third in the Playoff standings, two points ahead of defending series champion Logano in fourth and 22 points better than Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in fifth, the first driver below the cut line for the Championship 4.
Hamlin qualified third on Saturday at 139.394 mph, one spot ahead of teammate Martin Truex Jr., who already is locked into the Championship 4 by virtue of his victory in the opening race of the Round of 8 at Martinsville.
“I think this is actually the first race all year we made a mock (qualifying) run in practice,” said Busch, who won his first Busch Pole Award of the season, his fourth at ISM Raceway and the 32nd of his career. “Maybe there’s something to that. The guys did a great job. We fight hard every week trying to figure out what we need to do to continue to improve and get better, and a lot of others guys have certainly done that over the year.”
Track position is of paramount importance at Phoenix, as is the No. 1 pit stall, which Busch earned with his qualifying run.
“Hopefully today bodes well for tomorrow,” he said. “I really don’t know. The schedule is all different with all practice all in one day and then just qualifying today. Overall, proud to start out front in this very important race and very important with track position and such.”
Kyle Larson, tied for sixth in the standings with Ryan Blaney, qualified fifth, one position ahead of Chase Elliott, who is eighth among the Playoff contenders and must win on Sunday to advance to the Championship 4.
Kevin Harvick, locked into the final race with last Sunday’s win at Texas, will start seventh on Sunday. Blaney qualified 10th, as all Playoff drivers will start within the top five rows on Sunday.