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Despite All-Star Race win, Kyle Busch still seeks points-paying Cup win at Charlotte

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Kyle Busch was at the right place and at the right time when he won Saturday’s Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He won $1 million, earned his first All-Star Race victory and his first in the Cup Series at Charlotte, and it was also the first win of the season for Joe Gibson Racing.

“Finally,” Busch conceded. “I’ve just been trying for here for so long and the right circumstances came our way tonight.”

Unfortunately, though, it was all for naught – or at least for very little. Sure, it heightened Busch’s confidence after several struggles during the first 11 regular season, points paying races.

“Hopefully this is a little bit of momentum, a little bit of wind in our sails, something we can build on for next week,” Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief, said after the race.

And it also proved JGR could win a race. But it was also unlike any race in NASCAR Cup this season, just 70 laps in total.

We’ve had such a time this year,” team owner Joe Gibbs said, adding with a laugh, “I told everybody I forgot where winner’s circle was here, it’s been so long since we won a race. It’s a huge deal.

“I would say on this race, this has probably been the hardest race that we’ve run. In 25 years we’ve won twice. That’s it.”

But as such, the All-Star win meant very little in terms of competition potential because Busch and JGR are still both winless this season in points paying races.

And it also means very little in that the next race, Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, also at Charlotte Motor Speedway, is the longest race of the regular season.

Ergo, what worked for Busch and JGR Saturday in the All-Star Race, likely won’t even come close to working in the 600.

It’s apples to oranges. Busch knows that as well as anyone.

“What would it mean to win a points race (at Charlotte)?” he said. “It would mean a lot still. It would certainly kind of I guess close the next chapter, as I said a little earlier, about getting that next victory here.  Hopefully we can sweep it.  It would be nice to be added to that list of drivers that have been able to do that.

“We’ve got a little bit of work to do in order to get ourselves in position to be able to do that.  600 miles is a long race. Starts in the day, ends at night. There are a lot of things that can happen in that race.

“Certainly it’s probably a heck of a lot more fun to do it the way Martin Truex did last year. If we have another one of those, it would be a bad thing. Hopefully we can lead the last lap, the one that matters most, and score that points win here.”

Busch’s All-Star Race win was a rarity. It not only was Busch’s first in the annual May exhibition, it also was his first Cup-level win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

To say he was expecting to win would be a misnomer, Busch agreed.

I think my move here a few years ago was probably a little bit more crazy when I restarted fourth, got through the middle of the front row,” he said. “I don’t remember what happened after that. I probably wrecked. That’s most times what I do in this race.”

And while Busch wasn’t exactly expecting a win Saturday due to his past history, Gibbs was a bit ahead of himself.

“To tell you the truth, I thought he had won here (in Cup),” Gibbs said of Busch. I’m so used to him winning races. I know this is a huge deal for him.

“I’m telling you, we feel like Kyle can win anywhere. Certainly this year he’s really been in position a bunch, the top five at the end of the races, not been able to win one.”

Now it’s time to put the All-Star Race in the rearview mirror and go from the shortest race in the circuit to the longest: 400 laps for 600 miles around the 1.5-mile track.

“Finally, we’re able to kind of close the chapter on that one,” Busch said of his lack of success in the All-Star Race. “Now it’s time to go get a points win here.”

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Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

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With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma

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Kyle Larson won his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr. will line up alongside Larson on the front row.

Chase Elliott qualified third, the best of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers who advanced to the top 12. Jamie McMurray qualified fourth to place both Chip Ganassi Racing on the first two rows.

AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for full qualification results.

 

Kyle Larson wins pole for Sonoma Cup race

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Kyle Larson posted a lap of 94.597 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350. It was his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and the sixth of his career.

Larson beat Martin Truex Jr. (94.484 mph) by .090 seconds.

Chase Elliott (94.461), Jamie McMurray (94.227) and AJ Allmendinger (93.925) rounded out the top five. He was fastest in round one of qualification with a speed of 94.477 mph.

Hendrick Motorsports placed three of their drivers in the final round. Jimmie Johnson (93.824) qualified seventh. William Byron (93.756) qualified eighth. Alex Bowman (93.267) qualified 17th.

In his first race back since Matt Kenseth took over the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Trevor Bayne barely missed advancing to the final round. With a speed of 93.455 mph, he qualified 13th.

Clint Bowyer (93.252) was unable to back up his time from Friday’s practice and will roll off the grid 19th.

Click here for full qualification results.

For Clint Bowyer, Sonoma Raceway is a lot like Martinsville

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Clint Bowyer didn’t grow up road racing; he cut his teeth on dirt tracks in the Midwest. And yet, he had an immediate affinity for Sonoma Raceway. In his second start there, while driving for Richard Childress in 2007, he finished fourth.

In fact, Bowyer enters the Toyota/SaveMart 350 with seven top-five finishes in 12 starts that includes a runner-up finish in last year’s Sonoma race. If not for a couple of misfortunes (crash damage in 2010 and an electrical problem in 2016), he might well have swept the top 10 since scoring that first top five as a sophomore.

Perhaps the reason for that immediate success is that he considers Sonoma to be a twisted version of Martinsville Speedway – a track on which he won this March to snap a 190-race winless streak.

“I think you embrace this track and road racing in general just like you do Martinsville,” Bowyer said on Friday before heading out to put his No. 14 Ford at the top of the first practice speed chart. “Nobody shows up at Martinsville and goes to the top of the board and is fast and has success and navigates traffic to win that race right off the bat. It just doesn’t happen and it doesn’t happen here either.”

His Sonoma success has not translated to road courses in general, however.

Yes, Bowyer swept the top five on NASCAR’s two road courses last year, but the fifth-place finish he scored at Watkins Glen International was only the second of his career on a track that many drivers consider to be less technical than Sonoma. In 12 starts there, he has earned only five top 10s.

“Watkins Glen is so fast. It is just dive-bombs and you are really carrying a lot of speed at a place like Watkins Glen.

“Here, it is like that short track. It is like being at Martinsville. Did you see my car at the end of the race last year? It was destroyed. I drove up through and passed the field twice because of mistakes that we made and got spun out once. It was a wild race to be able to finish second. You can’t do that at Watkins Glen. That car wouldn’t have ran in the top 10 at Watkins Glen.”

Nine different drivers have won at Sonoma in the last nine races. Given the dominance of Harvick (who won last year) and Kyle Busch (the 2015 winner), many think they are the most likely to end that streak. But Bowyer also has an opportunity to end the streak of unique winners. He won the 2012 edition of this race by holding off Tony Stewart – the driver with the second-most road course wins in NASCAR history.

“You have to be able to have fun on this race track,” Bowyer said. “It is a challenge. Each and every corner is different. There is no perfect setup or perfect line. It is literally one of the only tracks you go to where you are out there racing and have a smile on your face. You might even get a chuckle.”