The Hot Pass: Kurt Busch out to please home crowd
Lady Luck smiled on hometown son Kurt Busch on Friday.
The blue deuce topped qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a lap of 188.719 mph — a track record. Busch called the pole “quite unexpected” given that he has yet to win a pole since the introduction of the new car.
But it’s the big trophy Busch has his eyes set on for Sunday, particularly because his younger brother Kyle beat him to the feat last season after winning the pole.
“To me and Kyle, it’s like a Daytona-type atmosphere, and we want to go out and win this big daddy,” Busch said of the importance of succeeding in front of his home crowd. “He got the chance to do it last year.
“I was telling my wife this morning that if I’m a little ornery, it’s because Kyle has won here and I haven’t. But I’m pushing hard to go get it.”
Busch scored his first career Las Vegas pole with a little help from his brother’s set-up from crew chief Steve Addington, who jumped into the same role for the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge at the start of this season. Busch the elder shared the front row with his brother last year and has never qualified worse than 10th. Busch enjoyed a career-high third-place finish while driving for Jack Roush, but his best finish since racing for Penske has been 16th.
“We used a combination of what I was familiar with and what (Addington) liked,” Busch said. “Right now, that’s our plan of attack each week. It feels good with Addington’s notes and his knowledge to blend into that.
“I hope it’s a one-two punch for making good adjustments. Sometimes, we’re not going to hit it just right, but we’ll take it right now."
With the possibility of Saturday’s practice being rained out, Addington insisted Busch make a long run on Friday to find the proper balance with the car in race trim.
Although the pair is approaching just the third race together this weekend, Busch said “it’s going well.” Though there have been miscues, including a late-race call for tires at Daytona that cost Busch valuable track position, he said it’s all about the transition process.
“Time is the only thing that makes it go smoother and makes it go easier,” Busch said. “The two of us look each other in the eye, and we communicate to a level that we’re not trying to say that is his way or my way is right. We have a job to do, and that’s make this Miller Lite Dodge successful.”
Better to be lucky and good
Despite winning last week at Fontana, Jimmie Johnson said it’s premature to predict a fifth Cup title.
On Friday, Johnson qualified 20th — fourth out of the Hendrick Motorsports cars — an indication of how quickly things change. But he won’t let talk about his racing luck cloud the significance of the No. 48 team’s four championships either.
"This No. 48 team is the real deal,” Johnson said. “It's way too early in the season for me to be too excited and say we're unbeatable and we're going to win a fifth. From my standpoint, it's unfair to say that and from the viewing audience. It's early in the year. This is only the second race."
Not so fast …
Kevin Harvick entered Las Vegas with the points lead, but his luck didn’t last.
Harvick experienced issues four laps into first practice when he pancaked the right side of the car coming out of Turn 2.
Although the team repaired the primary car, Harvick’s qualifying effort of 184.080 mph left him 34th in time trials — his second-worse career start at Las Vegas.
Harvick said Friday morning that it was “really too early in the season to get into points.” The best approach is to attack the competition on a weekly basis.
“We’ll take it one race at a time to make the adjustments that we think we need with our cars and analyze what we did right or wrong the week before and try to keep improving,” Harvick said. “That is the thing when you aren’t completely struggling, you can really start to fine-tune what you are doing as far as changes and really start tweaking on the fleet of cars that you have so you can try to make little things better.”