DOVER, Delaware – If Joe Gibbs Racing isn’t back, it’s hard to say what “back” is.
Kyle Busch put his No. 18 JGR Toyota on the pole for Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), edging favorite son Martin Truex Jr. for the top starting spot by .011 seconds.
With JGR teammates Daniel Suarez (158.346 mph) earning a career-best third starting spot and Matt Kenseth (158.211 mph) qualifying fourth, the Gibbs cars appear ready to build on the momentum they gathered during Speedweeks at Charlotte, where Busch won the Monster Energy All-Star Race and finished second in last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.
“To sit on the pole here means a little bit for us – it gives us a really good pit selection for Sunday and, more importantly, just gives us the track position right off the bat,” said Busch, who won his first Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Dover and the 20th of his career with a lap at 158.954 mph (22.648 seconds).
“We know the 78 car (Truex said) is going to be fast – they always are – and one of the guys we’re going to have to race against. There’s going to be many others that are starting farther back that we’ll be racing against, too, before the end of the day, but we’ll work on our Dogs Rule Pedigree Camry tomorrow in practice and make sure we get a good race setup underneath us, so we can hopefully stay up front.”
Truex (158.877 mph), the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series leader, qualified second by a razor-thin margin, even though he had an extra half-lap on his tires, having aborted his opening run in the first round of knockout qualifying after his car twitched off the corner.
“Yeah, I screwed up a little bit that first round and got loose going into (Turn 2) and aborted, and then we had to make a re-run,” Truex said. “Maybe cost us half a tenth eventually on our tires, but I don’t think it really did anything. So all in all it was good. Just trying to get it all out the last round.
“You’ve got be aggressive. You’ve got to charge and I just overcharged the entry to (Turn) 3 just a hair and lost a little time there, but all in all it was a good day for the Furniture Row Toyota.”
Kyle Larson was fifth fastest with the top Chevrolet in the final round, and Kurt Busch in sixth had the quickest Ford in the session. Austin Dillon, last week’s Coca-Cola 600 winner, qualified ninth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. nailed down the 11th starting spot to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent.
Looking for his 11th victory at the Monster Mile, Jimmie Johnson will start 14th after failing to reach the final round.
“Today was pretty challenging in the practice session trying to find the right balance,” Johnson said. “Just got off a little there. We got it closer for qualifying here, but just not enough speed to transfer.
“We’re trying. Qualifying is very important to us. We’re very aware of that. It is just not suiting us this year. This is my favorite track, and I know come race time we will be just fine.”