Kurt Busch wins first Sprint Cup pole since 2013 for Auto Club 400

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Kurt Busch continues to make up for lost time.

In his second week back from a three-race suspension by NASCAR, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver claimed the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway with a speed of 185.142 mph.

The pole, Busch’s first since Darlington in May 2013, comes a week after he finished fifth at Phoenix in his first race back since being suspended in the days leading up to the Daytona 500.

“This is huge for Gene Haas. … Thank you, Gene, for believing in me,” Busch said after the final qualifying round. “This is my job: come to the track, drive the car and put it up on the pole and go for wins. That is what Gene has told me to do from the get-go and I’m glad I have this chance to go back out there and live up to why he hired me.”

NASCAR suspended Busch after a Delaware Family Court ruled against him and issued a protective order in favor of former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.

The pole comes practically in the backyard of Gene Haas. Haas Automation is located in Oxnard, Calif., two hours west of Fontana, where Auto Club Speedway calls home.

“(I) drove over there yesterday, battled that good L.A. morning traffic, that was fun,” Busch said. “(I went) to do an appearance there to see all the employees and everybody that has been so anxious for me to get back and feel the love and the warmth from them. It gives you that extra motivation. That is probably what got us on the pole today was all the love from Haas Automation.”

Busch’s Stewart-Hass Racing teammate Kevin Harvick, who is on a roll after winning the last two Sprint Cup events at Las Vegas and Pheonix, qualified second with a speed of 185.047 mph. It’s only the second time the front row has ever been swept by a pair of Stewart-Haas drivers.

“Well it is definitely not going to hurt anything,” Harvick said. “I’m just really proud of everybody on the No. 41 and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing and everybody on our No. 4 team for everything that they do.

“Hopefully, we can keep it up this week. I didn’t get to run where I wanted to run (because) there were three cars on the apron down there where I wanted to be that had finished their lap.”

Rounding out the top five are Matt Kenseth (184.966 mph), David Ragan (184.866) in replacement of Kyle Busch, and Kyle Larson (184.337).

Not in the top 12 to go for the pole in the final qualifying round was Joey Logano, who qualified 13th. Logano missed out on making the final qualifying round for the first time in nine races, dating back to the fall Talladega race.

1. Kurt Busch … 185.142
2. Kevin Harvick … 185.047
3. Matt Kenseth … 184.966
4. David Ragan … 184.886
5. Kyle Larson … 184.337
6. Denny Hamlin … 184.233
7. Jeff Gordon … 184.087
8. Brad Keselowski … 184.063
9. Ryan Newman … 183.725
10. Clint Bowyer … 183.407
11. Paul Menard … 183.383
12. Martin Truex Jr. … 183.299
13. Joey Logano … 183.323
14. Jimmie Johnson … 183.257
15. Carl Edwards … 182.978
16. Sam Hornish Jr. … 182.904
17. Dale Earnhardt Jr. … 182.848
18. AJ Allmendinger … 182.764
19. Kasey Kahne … 182.746
20. Tony Stewart … 182.445
21. Austin Dillon … 182.343
22. Danica Patrick … 182.140
23. Aric Almirola … 181.800
24. Michael Annett … 180.397
25. Brian Scott … 181.768
26. Jamie McMurray … 181.626
27. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. … 181.557
28. Alex Bowman … 181.433
29. Greg Biffle … 181.392
30. Brett Moffitt … 181.219
31. Justin Allgaier … 180.995
32. Cole Whitt … 180.560
33. Chris Buescher … 180.505
34. Jeb Burton … 180.023
35. Josh Wise … 179.775
36. Trevor Bayne … 179.314
37. Casey Mears … Owner points
38. Brendan Gaughan … Owner points
39. Mike Bliss … Owner points
40. Landon Cassill … Owner points
41. J.J. Yeley … Owner points
42. Matt DiBenedetto … Owner points
43. David Gilliland … Owner points

Did not qualify: Reed Sorenson and Travis Kvapil

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report