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SHR Dominates TMS Qualifying

| , RacinToday.com Friday, April 10 2015
Kurt Busch has had his suspension lifted. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Kurt Busch on pole in Texas (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick admittedly are pushing each other around in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, a mindset that produced a 1-2 qualifying sweep Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway.

Busch knocked Harvick off P1 with under a minute remaining in Round 3 of time trials to claim his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season and first at TMS for Saturday night’s 19th annual Duck Commander 500. Busch toured the high-banked, 1.5-mile TMS quadoval in 27.857-seconds and 193.847 mph to post his third top-10 start in four races and the 18th pole of his controversial career. Busch also qualified on-pole at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., with Harvick alongside in Row 1.

Harvick’s best lap of 27.875-seconds at 193.722 mph was a miniscule 0.018-seconds behind his teammate.  “It feels good to post a lap at Texas and take home a pole award,” said Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS. “Texas is fast. The way the new (knockout) qualifying format works, you have to do it three times. (Crew chief) Tony Gibson is amazing with his adjustments…and when you have everybody adding-in and not second-guessing you can get everything out of a race car. It’s a good feeling to have a fast car at Texas.”

Harvick, the reigning Cup champion, settled for his career-best start at TMS. “I feel really good about where the car is,” said Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS. “We spent all but one run in race trim (in two practices). I slipped in (Turns) 1 and 2 and got loose and got gun-shy in (Turns) 3 and 4. But I feel like we all get better every week and that’s what we need to do.”

Harvick, in fact, said Busch has been a major factor in the team’s progress since returning from a NASCAR-mandated two-race suspension over alleged domestic abuse at the start of the season.

“It’s good to have his feedback because Kurt is really good with the cars, really understands what he wants to do and what’s going on,” said Harvick, a two-time winner this season. “He understands the setup sheets and looks at the tires and pays attention to everything that’s going on. When you have that type of feedback it just helps everybody push things along. And when you have common problems you can solve those problems…nit-pick those problems and fix those problems faster. This is my third year working with Kurt and I’ve enjoyed how much he is in-tune with the cars. We have the same focus and goal, and that’s to try to run fast and win races.”

Busch said the entire SHR stable, including three-time Cup champion/team co-owner Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick, is in a pushy mode.  “It’s great to get a couple poles; he’s (Harvick) got a couple wins,” Busch said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us to keep up with his pace. But it’s great to push each other and have the information go back-and-forth cleanly.”

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion, qualified third at 193.195 mph in the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion fielded by Penske Racing. Birthday boy Kasey Kahne will start fourth after a lap at 192.933 mph in the No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS fielded by Hendrick Motorsports. Six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Kahne’s HMS teammate, rounded-out the top five at 192.424 mph in the No. 48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet SS. And Joey Logano, the reigning Daytona 500 champion and winner of last year’s rain-delayed spring race here, qualified sixth at 192.369 mph in the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford fielded by Roger Penske.

Busch began working with Gibson last November during the AAA Texas 500 here _ Race No. 8 of the Sprint Cup Series Championship _ with the idea of getting a head-start on 2015. Busch’s suspension muted that effort, but he continues to make up for his time in NASCAR’s penalty box.

“It has gone very smoothly and it’s matured very quickly,” Busch said of his working relationship with Gibson. “I respect him and his style. He manages a great group of people underneath him. He’s had the same group for many years. When you can trust everybody in the group to know that they are the best guy in that position…it was arranged by Tony Gibson. So it’s his team that I’m privileged to drive for and it’s obviously under the main umbrella of Stewart-Haas Racing.

“Gene Haas believes in me and Tony Stewart, it’s just a great feeling. A pole is a pole. We now have to settle in to 500 miles. To be there at the end of the race (Saturday) night there are a lot of pit sequences that Tony Gibson is going to have to call. There are changes that we will have to make on the car throughout the night race and we hope to be there at the end and hopefully time-out the right caution when it comes at the end.”

Busch downplayed the notion that his team is rounding into “favorite status,” despite SHR’s connection to Hendrick Motorsports.  “It’s one step at a time,” said Busch, the 2004 Cup champion with Roush Fenway Racing. “Gibson and I now have qualified seven times together. It’s not like the seven years that some driver and crew chief combinations have been together for. It’s nice though to have notes on when we were here last fall. We looked at the qualifying sessions and said this is what we can do better today. It’s nice to have that notebook to look back on.

“We will lean on Daniel Knost (crew chief for Patrick) to help on some of the past experiences on what I went through last year when we were ‘oh-so-close’ so many times. But Tony Gibson, his veteran status in this garage is what helps put me at ease. And I love his experience level and you put trust in guys and go for it. I’m happy that we have two poles so far.”

Harvick, meanwhile, will attempt to break an 0-for 24 record at TMS during Saturday night’s 334-lap/501-miler. He’s coming off a second-place finish to Johnson in last November’s AAA Texas 500 with blinders on. “This is one we’ve circled we want to win,” Harvick said. “The biggest thing is I want to win here so Eddie Gossage (TMS president) will leave me alone. You come to a track where you haven’t won at _ and we’ve been fortunate to knock a lot off the list in the last year or so_ it’s a race we’ve definitely circled to start the year.”

FOX Sports will televise the event beginning at 7:30 p.m. (EDT).


| , RacinToday.com Friday, April 10 2015
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