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Simulator prep helps Kurt Busch secure Charlotte Road Course pole

CONCORD, N.C. – Kurt Busch and his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford crashed the Chevrolet party at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course on Friday, winning the pole for a race in which the word “crash” could be commonplace.

Running late in the final round, Busch toured the 2.28-mile, 17-corner course in 76.805 seconds (106.868 mph) to edge road course ace AJ Allmendinger (76.846 seconds at 106.811 mph) for the top starting spot in Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

On a track that will host its first NASCAR events this weekend, Busch earned his fourth Busch Pole Award of the season and the 26th of his career, after spending time on the Ford simulator preparing for the debut race.

“This is really special to win any inaugural race or pole,” Busch said. “To have this little trophy next to me means a lot. It brings me back to my past, when you go into a new event and you’re a rookie, you have to execute with fundamentals and an open mind.

“The way our team on the 41 car approached this weekend was to make sure that we had all bases covered, with front cambers, rear shocks-the setup in general and all those little things. Behind the scenes, I spent over two days at the Ford simulator, working on the ROVAL, making sure my shift points were proper, braking zones…

“When you have such good technology available to you, it’s a matter of utilizing it. I turned 40 this year, and here I am on the simulator, acting like it’s a video game. You have to do those things, and I’m really happy that it panned out today.”

Led by Allmendinger, Chevrolets claimed the next five starting spots and eight of the top 12. Alex Bowman (106.800 mph) qualified third, followed by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott (106.596 mph). Both drivers are in vulnerable positions entering the Round of 16 cutoff race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Playoff drivers Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson earned the fifth and sixth spots on the grid for what should prove an action-packed race, based on a continuous succession of incidents in opening practice.

“We’re going to see two races, I think,” said Allmendinger, who said he probably could have nit-picked his final-round lap and found an extra half second, provided he stayed mistake-free. “You’re either going to see everybody get so cautious because of all the accidents in practice, and people are on the cutoff line for the Playoffs; or we’re race car drivers, and we’re not very smart and we just go out there and get crazy and tear up a lot of stuff.

“Either one could happen, and I think it’ll probably be the second.”

Playoff drivers Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney qualified seventh and ninth, respectively in Fords, with Erik Jones taking the 12th starting position in the only Toyota in the top 12.

Chevrolet driver Chis Buescher qualified 10th, followed by Daniel Hemric, who was announced on Friday as the full-time driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, starting in 2019. Hemric is driving the No. 8 RCR Chevy for his second Cup start this weekend.

None of NASCAR’s Big 3 advanced to the final round. Martin Truex Jr. claimed the 13th starting spot, missing the final 12 by .040 seconds. Kyle Busch will start 14th and fellow seven-time winner Kevin Harvick 19th.

Joey Logano earned the 15th spot, with fellow Playoff drivers Aric Almirola 20th, Austin Dillon 24th, Brad Keselowski 25th and Denny Hamlin 27th.

— NASCAR Wire Service —