NASCAR's final stretch before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins in September, so every race takes on increased importance. Drivers converged on Pocono Raceway on Friday to qualify for this weekend's Windows 10 400 race, with Kyle Busch taking the pole.
Busch's amazing hot streak continues, winning qualifying on Friday coming off four wins in the last five races. This is also his first pole at Pocono in five years, per NASCAR Stats:
Jeff Gluck of USA Today offered a simple response upon seeing Busch do something well on the track yet again:
While Busch is going to be the story heading into Sunday, Hendrick Motorsports has owned this race in the past three years, with Jeff Gordon (2012), Kasey Kahne (2013) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2014) taking the checkered flag.
While those three drivers have high aspirations, the rest of the field aims to prove that it isn't going to go quietly.
Here's the top 12 for Sunday's race in Pennsylvania:
|NASCAR at Pocono Qualifying Results - Top 12|
Full results at NASCAR.com.
Kevin Harvick was a man possessed early in qualifying, particularly in the second round with a blazing-fast speed, per NASCAR:
Harvick, who is currently leading the Chase standings, was able to improve that lap time in the final round, but he came up just short after Busch's stellar run.
Right behind Harvick on the starting grid and overall standings is Joey Logano. The 25-year-old will be looking to get over the Busch-sized mountain that caused him to finish second at last weekend's Brickyard 400.
Logano certainly isn't lacking confidence on the Pocono track, as noted by R.J. Kraft of NASCAR.com:
Gordon, who qualified 10th, has had great success on this track recently. Even though he didn't win in 2014, the No. 24 did lead for a race-high 63 laps before falling into fifth place at the end. This will be his last chance to make a statement at Pocono before riding off into the sunset.
Speaking about his season overall, Gordon told Mike Hembree of USA Today that his team is capable of more than it has shown:
I think the team is very capable of getting ourselves in the Chase, but we want more than that. We want to be fighting for wins. We have a strong team that has overcome adversity in the past, and we’re going to fight all the way through Richmond (the final regular-season race) to get in whether it’s by points or by a win.
Another driver who has been riding a wave of momentum, Carl Edwards came into Friday looking to win his third consecutive pole. The driver of the No. 19 car made it to the top 12 after two rounds but posted a final-round time of 50.75 seconds to end up in eighth place.
This was an intense, competitive round of qualifying that sets the stage for a great race on Sunday.
Busch is going to be a heavy favorite because of what he's done over the last month, but the competition right behind him like Harvick and Logano will provide a huge challenge.
The last driver to win this race from the pole position was Denny Hamlin in 2006, so Busch has to erase nearly a decade of history to end that streak and extend his own three-race winning streak.