Kyle Busch earns pole at Martinsville

To­day’s race in Vir­ginia is first in third round of play­offs

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

MARTINSVILLE, VA. — Kyle Busch’s road to the cham­pi­onship round was made a lit­tle bit eas­ier Sat­ur­day when he won the pole at Martinsville Speed­way.

Busch turned a lap at 96.254 mph around the Vir­ginia pa­per­clip to earn the top start­ing spot in to­day’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 sea­son­fi­nale 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, breathe, sleep, every­thing. It’s al­ways on our mind.”

The of­fi­cial lineup is not set un­til af­ter this morn­ing’s in­spec­tion, and driv­ers whose cars fail in­spec­tion will start from the rear. Pit se­lec­tion will oc­cur af­ter cars are in­spected, and Busch is ea­ger to claim the first stall on pit road to ease his ex­its dur­ing the race.

“Ob­vi­ously start­ing po­si­tion is im­por­tant, but the op­por­tu­nity is re­ally to have that pit box,” Busch said. “That num­ber one pit box will hope­fully do us good and we can have a good day, run up front much of the day and fin­ish there.”

Clint Bowyer qual­i­fied se­cond in a Ford from Stew­art-Haas Rac­ing, which has all four of its driv­ers in the field of eight. SHR team­mate Aric Almirola qual­i­fied fifth, Kurt Busch was sev­enth and Kevin Har­vick 13th.

Chase El­liott was the low­est-qual­i­fy­ing play­off driver at 21st.

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