Led by defending NASCAR Cup Series champion and pole sitter Joey Logano, Fords dominated qualifying, capturing the four top spots for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Logano covered the .526-mile oval with a speed of 97.830 mph, earning the 21st pole of his Cup career — with five of those now coming at Martinsville.
“You just have to be so precise and pushing yourself so hard in the corners, and a mistake is such a penalty,” Logano told Fox Sports 1. “It was awesome to get another pole here at Martinsville and hopefully we can top it off with … another win in the books.”
It appeared as if Almirola might take the pole, but Logano overtook him with just 34 seconds remaining in the final round.
“I just barely missed it by a little bit, and that’s all it takes,” Almirola told FS1. “We came up close, but just not enough.”
Kyle Busch failed to advance to the final round of qualifying. He’ll take the green flag Sunday from the 14th position in the 1,000th overall NASCAR start of his career. Just before Cup qualifying, Busch won the 201st race of his NASCAR career in the Truck Series race.
* The starting lineup is provisional until Sunday morning’s pre-race inspection. Any car that fails inspection will lose its starting spot and move to the back of the field.
* Daniel Suarez was penalized for speeding on pit road during the final round, but managed to bounce back for another try to earn the 10th starting spot.
* Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first qualifying attempt was disallowed for speeding on pit road. He came back on-track to try again before the session expired, but could go no faster than 25th, failing to advance to the second round. “I didn’t feel I was going that fast (on pit road),” Stenhouse Jr. told Fox Sports 1. “Either way, our first or second time wasn’t good enough to make it. Definitely not the qualifying effort we wanted.”
* Cody Ware and Cory LaJoie did not make qualifying attempts, having to work on their race cars after being involved in wrecks during Saturday’s practice sessions.
* Sunday’s STP 500 (500 laps/263 miles) will take the green flag shortly after 2 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
For the third time in the last four weeks Kyle Busch is the unanimous No. 1 pick in the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.
Busch made history last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, earning the 200th win of his NASCAR career across all three major series. With the three-race West Coast swing now in its rearview mirror, NASCAR heads to the series’ shortest track, the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway.
Making the biggest jump in this week’s rankings were Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski (seventh to fourth) and Ryan Blaney (ninth to sixth). The biggest drop was Martin Truex Jr., who fell to seventh from second.
Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look:
1. Kyle Busch (40 points): The King of the sport at this point. In 10 national series starts this year, he has six wins and two runner-up finishes and has not finished lower than sixth in any race. Last week: 1st.
2. Joey Logano (35 points): Two top-two finishes during West Coast swing plus a 10th at Phoenix. Only Kyle Busch scored more points than Logano during the three-race swing. Last week: 3rd.
3. Kevin Harvick (30 points): Hasn’t led any laps since Las Vegas, but has finished fourth three times since Daytona. Last week: 5th.
4. Brad Keselowski (29 points): Rebounded from a dismal Phoenix race to lead 42 laps and place third at Fontana. His four races since Daytona have included three finishes in top three. Last week: 7th.
5. Kurt Busch (22 points): Four consecutive top 10s but has failed to make the final round of qualifying in the last three races. That’s contributed to him having only four stage points in that time. Last week: 4th.
6. Ryan Blaney (17 points): He is nipping at the heels of his powerhouse Penske teammates. Could he join Logano and Keselowski with a playoff berth with a win at Martinsville? Last week: 9th.
7. Martin Truex Jr. (16 points): Talk about consistency: Truex has finished second, eighth, second and eighth in his last four starts. Last week: 2nd.
8. Denny Hamlin (12 points): Still has not finished worse than 11th this season. Last week: 6th.
9. Aric Almirola (10 points): Just keeps clicking off top 10s. That’s four in a row for him. Now has nine top 10s (including a win last fall at Talladega) in his last 11 starts. Last week: 8th.
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (5 points):Even though he finished 14th at Fontana, his second-worst showing of the season, again receives major points for displaying grit and sheer will. Climbs back into the top 10 after dropping out last week.
Dustin Long: Kyle Busch. Five wins in seven national series races (should have gone seven for seven).
Daniel McFadin: Kyle Busch easily. Of the seven races he entered, he won five and placed in the top three in the other two.
Jerry Bonkowski: With two wins and a third-place finish in the West Coast swing, there’s no other choice but Kyle Busch. Other drivers that had a good run include Kurt Busch (fifth-seventh-sixth), Joey Logano (one win, one runner-up and one 10th-place finish) and Kevin Harvick (two fourth-place finishes and a ninth-place).
Who had the worst West Coast Swing?
Nate Ryan:Ryan Preece. After three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 (while his teammate notched three straight top 20s), the outstanding showing at the Daytona 500 must seem much further away than a month ago.
Dustin Long: Those hoping the rule changes would dramatically alter the racing and alter who the best teams would be.
Daniel McFadin: Has anyone seen Ryan Newman? While his teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has shown glimpses of improvement, including at Las Vegas, the No. 6 Ford has been missing in action. Newman’s West Coast Swing was made up of finishes of 24th (Vegas), 12th (Phoenix) and 22nd (Auto Club). He has no top 10s through five races.
Jerry Bonkowski: With finishes of 22nd (Las Vegas), 26th (Phoenix) and 30th (Fontana), Bubba Wallace ranks 30th after the West Coast swing. He’s way behind the eight ball after just five races. About the only chance Wallace has to make the playoffs is to get a win in the next 21 races.
If you were seeding the Cup field like the NCAA tournament, who would be your four No. 1 seeds after five races?
Nate Ryan: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick.
Dustin Long: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick.
Daniel McFadin: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch
Jerry Bonkowski: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin.
Bigger Chevrolet surprise: That Kurt Busch has four consecutive top 10s or Hendrick Motorsports has no top fives this season?
Nate Ryan: Busch seemed reinvigorated toward the end of last season, and Chip Ganassi Racing made the necessary moves to shore up its performance this season, so while the No. 1’s consistency has been unexpectedly stellar, it’s less of a stunner than Hendrick. It’s been 19 years since the team went five races into a season without a top five. Yes, there’ve been flashes of speed by each driver, but the statistics don’t get any plainer than that. Hendrick will need to show it has made progress by Texas Motor Speedway next week.
Dustin Long: Kurt Busch. I like how this team has performed at the beginning of the season but Busch told me after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway that for all that has gone well for them with finishes, they need to qualify better to gain more stage points. He scored only four stage points during the West Coast races.
Daniel McFadin: Kurt Busch’s remarkable consistency. He entered a car that had just two top fives last year and matched it in the first four races. Last year, Busch didn’t earn his fourth top 10 until he placed second at Talladega in race No. 10. Hendrick is still working itself out of a rut that started two years ago.
Jerry Bonkowski: Tough question. Busch is the most pleasant surprise for Chevy, for sure. But Hendrick Motorsports is the biggest surprise overall – and that’s not a good thing – in the bowtie camp, as all four of its drivers are already more than 100 points behind points leader Kyle Busch after five races and Chase Elliott is the highest-ranked HMS pilot in 12th place.
What Drivers Said after Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana
Here’s what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, highlighted by Kyle Busch’s historic 200th career NASCAR win:
KYLE BUSCH — WINNER: “Feels just like number one. Feels just like yesterday. Man, that was such an awesome racecar. I mean, dang. This Interstate Batteries Camry was awesome today. I’m glad we put on a heck of a show for all these fans out here in California at Auto Club Speedway. It takes green to get in Victory Lane today. Today is St. Patty’s day. All these other guys were at a disadvantage. The Interstate Batteries Green Machine was flying today. Just awesome. Just awesome. To win 200, I mean, whatever it means, it means a lot to me. It means a lot to all my guys, everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. You guys are all the best. Toyota, TRD. It’s an amazing opportunity to drive for Joe Gibbs. I cherish every minute of it, love it always. Just wish that we could keep it going, keep it going like this, running strong, running well, and winning these races. … (His goal when he decided to become a NASCAR driver) I think the original goal was just to get to NASCAR and then once I got here, it was to win a race. Once it was winning a race then it was about trying to sustain and being able to be a winner here and to be a champion here. To have the opportunities to continue down the line to be able to be successful each and every year and we’ve been doing that. We’ve only won one title, but certainly I feel like I have the best team out there right now and we just have to be able to do it all year long.”
Joey Logano – finished second: “We were racing hard and no matter who got to the lead, the 18 was going to pass us. He was the best car today. We have some work to do to get faster but the team did a great job today. We held strong today with the Auto Club Ford Mustang. You want to win at the home track of your sponsor. We gave it a solid run. I hate being that close. The last few laps you are running up against the wall and he had a big enough lead to kind of cruise a little and you are just hoping a lap car gets in the way or something. It was solid. We have a lot of momentum on this race team right now.”
Brad Keselowski – finished third: “We were really good and got to the lead there on that last run but I just couldn’t quite keep it there. It was a good effort by the team and we were right there in position and we gave it all we had. … (On Kyle Busch’s win) It is really fast through the corners and that is always good. That is really important and he had that today. I gave all I had for him. I got in front of him and tried my best to hold him off, we just fell off too much.”
Kevin Harvick – finished fourth: “We raced well today. My guys did a great job on pit road. Our car was better than it was in practice. I didn’t have anything for the Penske cars or the 18 car. They did a great job of racing hard all day and we made a lot out of the west coast swing with not very much. We have some work to do but we know you still have to go race. Our Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang was okay today and we got a decent finish. My guys did a great job. We didn’t have much that we thought was going well this weekend but they made the car better and did a great job of keeping us in the game. It raced well and we had a great day on pit road. We overachieved today and I am really proud of everyone on the team for that. We have done that four weeks in a row but when you come to this west coast swing you have what you have and we left here with four top-10’s and three top-fives over the first five races. I am proud of everybody for that. It isn’t always going to be good. You have to try to figure out how to do things better when they aren’t going very good and our guys have done that.”
Ryan Blaney – finished fifth: “We ran pretty decent all day. We just weren’t very good the first run but we got a lot better. We had a lap and a half on our tires when the caution came out. I thought if I could control the race from the front row and be the leader that I might be able to hold on because I thought our car was pretty good at the time. I was fourth by the time we got to turn one. I got no push. It took 10 laps for it to come in and we were eighth and drove back to fifth. We had a really fast PPG Ford Mustang, we just never got the lead or track position with equal tires and that hurt us but overall not a bad day.”
KURT BUSCH – finished sixth: “We had a good day. I was just hoping to get a top 5 and came home just a bit short. But the growth rate of us at Ganassi and the adjustments we’re making, I couldn’t be happier. I’m smiling as I’m driving the car. It’s so much fun to toss it down in there with all this downforce and the horsepower, you just pitch it sideways and see if it’s going to stick. But, we know we’ve got our work cut out for us. It’s awesome to run up front. I’m smiling. But, we know at our growth rate, we’re not on a plateau yet. I’ve got to keep going. … (On brother Kyle’s 200th career win) This is a big day. For my little brother to have 200 wins, they’re all added up through his hard work and his dedication to perfection. Not bat for two kids with an attitude from Vegas.”
Aric Almirola – finished ninth: “I thought that was very typical California. The restarts were wild and crazy like we always see here and track position was king. We got strung out and fought track position a lot today. The cars are very difficult to drive in the wake of air of the cars in front of you. It is very challenging. The restarts are definitely exciting. The fans get their money worth for a few laps at least. All in all it was a great day for our Farmer John Ford Mustang. We got to lead some laps in the beginning. We just never made the right adjustments. We were a tick off all day. We had a top-six car and lost some track position and that is all we could do to muster you a ninth place finish.”
Austin Dillon – finished 10th: “We had a really fast Dow Chevrolet this weekend and we have shown speed all year. We earned the pole award and ran well within the top-five until the end of Stage 1. I could feel the right-rear tire going down and brushed the outside wall. The No. 3 team did a great job keeping me on the lead lap during multiple pit stops for repairs. The Dow Chevrolet remained fast. It was just an uphill battle to reclaim track position. Through hard work, we were able to finish 10th. I’m so proud of this team.”
Daniel Suarez — finished 13th: “We had another good Haas Automation Mustang this weekend. We have a few things we have to clean up as a team with pit road, etc., but we had a good car. We had a top-10 car and we showed that at some points, but we’re still learning each other and we’ll get better and better the longer we work with each other.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 14th: “We started the race really good. The later in the race, our Fastenal Ford just got too tight. We gambled there early on but spun out on the restart which set us back all race. We kept fighting and restarted sixth for the final 31 laps but just couldn’t hold on. It was still a decent finish for us overall in the big picture.”
Ryan Newman — finished 22nd: We just struggled with the handling all day and once we fell a lap off the pace it was hard to make up ground. Our team worked hard all weekend and we showed some good speed, so we’ll take that as a positive and move on to Martinsville next week.”
Ty Dillon — finished 27th: “We had a really great GEICO Camaro ZL1 at the start of this race. It was handling the best it had all weekend. My guys had found something that was going to work and keep our good finishes going, but the flat tire under green at the end of Stage 1 really hurt us. We had strategy plans to get our laps back if we could ever catch the cautions that we needed, but those just didn’t happen. It’s unfortunate that a tire ruined our day, but that’s not going to get this team down. We are going to keep grinding and working hard to be ready for Martinsville next weekend.”
Daniel Hemric – finished 33rd:“I hate it for everyone on this No. 8 Liberty National Life Insurance Chevrolet team. We had a strong run going and had worked from the 17th spot to racing inside the top 10 by the end of Stage 1. I was racing in heavy traffic once we went back green, and the air just sucked me up the track and I made contact with the outside wall exiting Turn 4. That damage cut the right rear tire and we had to pit under green to repair the damage. Unfortunately, we had another flat right rear, which caused even more damage. Nobody on this team gave up and I am proud of them for doing all they could to repair the damage. The car still had speed, but without the help of many cautions, we never really had the chance to get those laps back and then we had a flat left front in the closing laps, which hurt us even more.”
Clint Bowyer — finished 38th: “I felt like we had the car dialed in today better than we had all weekend, and we were looking pretty good early. But she started vibrating and you could smell something, so we were probably on borrowed time. I’m disappointed for the Rush and Haas folks who came out today hoping to see us run up front.”
Kyle Busch made NASCAR history Sunday with his 200th career victory in one of NASCAR’s top three national series, capturing the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Busch earned his 53rd career Cup victory (and fourth at Fontana), adding to his 94 wins in the Xfinity Series and 53 wins in the Truck Series. He becomes only the second driver in NASCAR history to reach the 200-win mark, joining NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty (who earned 200 wins in NASCAR’s premier series).
Busch led 134 of 200 laps and won by 2.354 seconds. It was his second conseuctive Cup victory after his win last Sunday at ISM Raceway. He also is the first driver with multiple victories this season.
Busch’s 200th win came at the same 2-mile track where he earned his first career Cup win on Sept. 4, 2005.
“It feels just like No. 1, just like yesterday,” Busch told Fox Sports after climbing out of his No. 18 Toyota on the frontstretch. “It was such an awesome race car. I mean, dang. I’m glad we put on a heck of a show for all these fans here at Auto Club Speedway.
“To win 200, whatever it means, it means a lot to me and all my guys at Joe Gibbs Racing. You’re the best. I just wish we could keep it going, keep it going like this, running strong, running well and winning these races.”
Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski finished second and third, respectively, in the third and final race of the annual West Coast swing. Kevin Harvick rallied in the closing laps to finish fourth, followed by Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney.
“We came so close, but I’m proud of the effort,” Logano said of his fourth consecutive top-5 finish at Fontana. “We hung in there all day, hung strong, just didn’t have enough to beat that green car (Busch’s car).”
Said Keselowski, who led 42 laps: “We got a lot better from the first run to the end. … I couldn’t stay up front. I brushed the wall a bit earlier. They fixed it; we kept working on it, and we got a solid day.”
Kyle Busch won both stages for the third time in his career (also in the 2018 Coca-Cola 600 and the 2017 Brickyard 400). Because of pit stops and a speeding penalty on pit road, he restarted 18th after the second stage. He roared back to the lead with 26 laps remaining and pulled away for his milestone victory.
“Sometimes, you have to have a little bit of luck on your side,” Busch said. “It certainly is a monumental moment for all of us. Maybe the stars aligned a little bit for us today.”
WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Team Penske was the most dominating team with three drivers in the top-5 (Logano second, Keselowski third and Blaney fifth). … Harvick struggled with his car throughout the race but was able to bounce back late to earn his third fourth-place finish of the season and fourth consecutive top-10.
WHO HAD A BAD DAY:Clint Bowyer suffered mechanical problems with 70 laps to go and finished last in the 38-car field. … Rookie Daniel Hemric finished eight laps down in 33rd.
NOTABLE: Austin Dillon had to take two bags of IV fluids before the race to help him battle flu. With Saturday’s Xfinity winner Cole Custer on standby, Dillon was able to run the entire race and wound up with a respectable 10th-place finish.
WHAT’S NEXT: STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 24 (FS1); green flag at 2 p.m. ET.