Kurt Busch on Friday sped around the 11/2-mile Texas Motor Speedway faster than a speeding bullet fired from a Henry Repeating rifle.
Busch, in the No. 41 Ford, set a track-record with a lap of 200.915 mph in 26.877 seconds in capturing the pole – and the prize that goes with it, the Henry rifle – for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 NASCAR Cup race.
Denny Hamlin was second, as well as the fastest among the contenders in the NASCAR Cup playoffs, with a lap of 200.617. Hamlin is seventh in the series standings.
Kevin Harvick, Busch’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, and winless in his career at TMS, ran 200.378. He’ll start third.
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Series leader Martin Truex Jr., and Round-of-8 competitors Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski will start seven through 10.
“It’s always cool to come to Texas and go for a pole run and get a gun afterward. Heck, yeah … a shotgun,” Busch said. “It’s awesome.
“Right before I jumped in the car I saw an old friend, he had his two sons with him. I winked at both of them and said ‘It’s going to be over 200 mph today.’ They were, like, ‘whoa.’ I was able to back it up. I feel impressed.”
The cooler weather of a fall-like mid-60s temperature affected the speeds. The more summer-like temperatures forecast for Sunday – 92 degrees – will slow the speeds, by as much as seven or eight mph, Busch predicted.
“We’ll see 200, but not average,” he said.
Bidding Junior adieu
When it comes to retirement gifts from Texas Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr., making his final appearance at Texas Motor Speedway in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 NASCAR Cup race, got off fairly easy compared to some of his recently retired peers.
TMS President Eddie Gossage has a reputation for going to the extreme. Just ask Jeff Gordon (Shetland ponies) and Tony Stewart (life-sized bobblehead).
Gossage, atop a horse and outfitted in a black cowboy hat and black western-style shirt, both outlined in lights, made quite the entrance in presenting a horse to a therapy center in Junior’s name, a piece of personal professional history from the track, and a baby stroller designed like a car for the driver of the No. 88 and his wife, Amy, expecting the couple’s first child.
“With all the integrity and seriousness that a man sitting on a horse inside of a building can offer,” Gossage said, “I want to thank you and congratulate you for all you’ve meant to this sport, what you’ve done for this sport just by being you. I appreciate how you’ve conducted yourself on and off the track.
“God bless you.”
The first gift was a TMS sponsorship of a therapy horse renamed “Dale Jr.” at the Victory Therapy Center in Roanoke. Next was the No. 1 position with Junior’s lighted number “8” from the scoring tower of the DirecTV 500 in 2000, his first career Cup victory.
“That’s it? That is the one?” Junior beamed.
That was indeed the one, Gossage assured him.
Elliott: don’t ask
Chase Elliott, sitting eighth in the NASCAR Cup playoffs, will start in the back of the field, 34th, on Sunday. Earlier in the day, he told reporters not to get too nosy about his brush with Denny Hamlin last week.
“I’m not going to answer y’all’s questions about whether I’m going to get him back or not,” said Elliott, who added that while he is still bothered by being wrecked by Hamlin last week, the incident is not a distraction. “So don’t even ask because you won’t hear it from me.”
Billboards around the track are proclaiming Elliott the “People’s Champion” after his fans rushed to his support after his bid for victory last week was lost when Hamlin wrecked him.
About the slogan, Hamlin jokingly asked, “Is that official?”
Asked later whether the incident could develop into a NASCAR rivalry, Hamlin said: “I hate to disappoint you, but probably not.”