Kurt Busch captured the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway, blistering the 2-mile track with a lap of 185.142 miles per hour in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
The pole was Busch’s first of the year and 17th in 509 career starts.
"This is huge for (team owner) Gene Haas," said Busch. " … Thank you, Gene Haas, for believing in me. This is my job. Come to the track, drive the car and put it up on the pole and go for wins. That is what Gene has told me to do from the get-go, and I’m glad I have this chance to go back out there and live up to why he hired me. It feels good."
The pole came in Busch’s second race back after a three-race NASCAR suspension at the start of the season because of an alleged domestic violence incident with a former girlfriend last September. NASCAR reinstated Busch last week after the Delaware Department of Justice declined to pursue criminal charges in the case.
That allowed Busch to get back to his job, and he finished fifth in his return last week at Phoenix.
Prior to winning the pole, Busch was fastest in the day’s lone practice round.
Busch’s SHR teammate, Kevin Harvick, who won the past two races and has a streak of seven consecutive top-two finishes, qualified second at 185.047 mph.
"We’ll definitely take a front-row starting spot," said Harvick.
Next were the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas of Matt Kenseth and David Ragan, with Kyle Larson completing the top five.
Among the drivers failing to make the final round were Jimmie Johnson (14th), Carl Edwards (15th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (17th) and Danica Patrick (22nd).
None of the three Roush Fenway Racing Fords were among the 24 cars to advance out of Round 1.
"This is unacceptable," said Greg Biffle, the team’s senior driver. " … We’re dying a slow death."
Brett Moffitt, who replaced Brian Vickers Friday when Vickers had a recurrence of blood clots, pancaked the wall in practice but qualified 30th.
"We’re struggling here," said Moffitt. "We need to find some speed."
Moffitt’s replacement, Chris Buescher, qualified 33rd for his Sprint Cup debut.
Once again, NASCAR tweaked the qualifying format slightly, this time lining the cars up along the pit lane with their rear ends toward the wall, rather than their noses. NASCAR officials said this change was made at the request of the drivers, to reduce contact from drivers backing out to qualify.
Reed Sorenson and Travis Kvapil failed to qualify.