Kyle Busch to start from Martinsville pole
Kyle Busch’s road to the championship round was made a little bit easier when he won the pole at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Busch turned a lap at 96.254 mph around the Virginia paperclip to earn the top starting spot in Sunday’s race, the first of the third round of NASCAR’s playoffs. Eight drivers remain eligible for the title, but only four will advance to the season finale shootout.
A win in any of the three races in this round of the playoffs earns a driver an automatic berth.
Busch won Martinsville last year to earn a spot at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and he’s been so good all year as a member of NASCAR’s so-called “Big 3” that advancing to the finale is almost a given. He said Saturday after qualifying that the pressure has been amped considerably.
“Anytime you’re under pressure or under the amount of stress as what this round is to get yourself into the final four for Homestead, anytime you can kind of take a step back and have a clear head is a good time,” Busch said. “The pressure that sets in over these next two weeks if you’re behind the cutoff line … that can certainly wear on your during the week. You try to have other things to do to kind of take your mind off of it a little bit. This is what we live, eat, breath, sleep, everything. It’s always on our mind.”
STEWART-HAAS AIMING TO DOMINATE ROUND OF 8
Tony Stewart passionately believed in Aric Almirola when others dismissed the racecar driver as a journeyman with nothing more to offer than the backing of a bacon company sponsor.
Stewart had a chance to replace Danica Patrick in one of the four StewartHaas entries – the weakest of the teams, statistically – and Almirola was his guy. It merely helped that Almirola had Smithfield, a pork company that not only wanted to win NASCAR races but wanted to do it with him, was a coveted sponsor throughout the entire garage.
But Stewart wanted him for reasons beyond the financial backing. He’d first encountered Almirola at least a decade earlier, when Stewart was a champion driver at Joe Gibbs Racing and Almirola was touted as a future star. Almirola got bounced around the system, wound up at Richard Petty Motorsports and was making a living but not winning races.
The No. 10 car at SHR should have been as competitive as the others, Stewart believed, and with Patrick out it opened the door for Almirola to get out of mid-level equipment and show he had the talent to run with NASCAR’s elite.