Kyle Busch's pursuit of a second checkered flag in the Sprint Cup circuit received a major boost on Friday. At the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he won his second pole of the year, setting a track record in the process:
According to NASCAR Stats, Busch topped out at 138.130 miles per hour. It's the 13th time that a driver has rewritten the record books in qualifying:
That didn't last long. Kyle Busch to P1. Track record lap of 138.130 mph. #NASCAR— NASCAR Stats (@NASCARStats) July 11, 2014
This is the 13th track qualifying record set this year. #NASCAR— NASCAR Stats (@NASCARStats) July 11, 2014
He praised his pit crew on Twitter for a job well done:
Unloaded a really good @interstatebatts Camry, team made changes n got it even better. Excited for Sunday!— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) July 11, 2014
Winning the pole at New Hampshire is very advantageous. Five drivers have gone from pole-sitter to victor, which is the highest total of any position at the track. Busch isn't desperately seeking a win on Sunday, but it would go a long way toward securing a place in the final Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Under NASCAR's Chase structure, points take a backseat to wins. Busch sits comfortably in eighth place, with one checkered flag and 524 points. Getting a second victory would all but assure him a place in the top 16 until the September deadline.
Here's a look at the top 10 from Friday's qualifying:
|Pos.||Driver||Best Speed||Best Time||Behind|
|9||Martin Truex Jr.||136.629||27.877||-0.303|
Unlike Busch, a few drivers are getting a little antsy about making another trip to Victory Lane.
Nobody has more points without a win than Matt Kenseth. His 580 points are good enough for 12th in the standings, but sooner or later, he'll likely have to make a trip to Victory Lane. While the chances are somewhat slim, five other drivers could hypothetically get their first win between now and Sept. 14, leaving the No. 20 car on the outside looking in.
Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Busch and Denny Hamlin, both looked great in qualifying; however, Kenseth could only settle for 15th:
Starting lineup for Sunday: Busch 1st! Hamlin 3rd, Kenseth 15th. #NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.— Boris for JGR (@JoeGibbsRacing) July 11, 2014
According to DriverAverages.com, New Hampshire is Kenseth's ninth-best track since February 2012. He has one win in four races and finished in an average position of 9.25. He's arguably earned a win by now, and Sunday may be when it finally happens.
One of the stars punching below his weight so far in 2014 is Jamie McMurray. The 38-year-old is still without a win and sits 24th in the points standings, 45 points behind 16th-placed Austin Dillon.
Perhaps starting out Sunday in fifth position will spur McMurray on to his first checkered flag of the Sprint Cup season.
Sitting in a similarly precarious position is Kasey Kahne. The No. 5 car is 20th, 12 points behind Dillon. Despite his struggles in 2014, Kahne isn't hitting the panic button just yet, per Sporting News' Bob Pockrass:
Prior to Daytona, I thought we could easily make it in on points. I haven’t looked at points since, but I’m not real sure. ... To me, it’s more about the team and working on the things that we’re working on. We’ve done a much better job of putting a full race together. We’re still not there. But we’ve cleaned it up a little bit. We still have a ways to go, and if we get there, we’ll be able to win and get in that way.
While you can understand Kahne's refusal to get too distressed, only eight races remain before the beginning of the Chase. He—along with many others—needs to see a reversal of fortunes, and soon. Starting out in 10th allows him to get a strong start to the race and slowly work his way up the leaderboard.
Last week's winner of the Coke Zero 400, Aric Almirola, was in the same boat as Kenseth, McMurray and Kahne before reigning supreme at Daytona. That's how quickly a driver's chances can change.
Almirola didn't get a great start to his weekend, qualifying in 19th:
Like Busch, he's looking to merely secure his Chase position rather than climb into it.
With the window rapidly closing on the Chase, it will be interesting to see if any drivers really go for broke trying to either work their way into the top 16 or strengthen their positions.