When Kyle Busch posted the second-fastest speed in the first round of qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway, he looked like a contender to win the pole position on Friday, despite having to switch to a backup after a crash damaged his primary car.
But Busch will not be on front row for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, the second of three races in the semifinal round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Instead, the defending series champion will line up 24th after a water leak prevented him from taking another lap. Crew chief Adam Stevens said that in preparing Busch’s backup car, a radiator hose wasn’t properly secured.
Busch wrecked minutes into practice earlier Friday when his No. 18 car got loose exiting Turn 4 and he was unable to maintain control. He slapped the outside wall, damaging the right front.
“I think it is a byproduct of pounding the fence before we even completed a lap in practice,” Stevens said. “In our hurry to change the motor and all the drivetrain afterwards, apparently we didn’t get the lower radiator hose completely clamped on the water neck out of the block and proceeded to dump all the water out of it on pit road after our first run.”
Busch’s misfortune opened the door for Austin Dillon to win the No. 1 starting spot for Sunday’s playoff race. His lap of 192.301 mph bested second-place qualifier Joey Logano (192.260 mph) and earned Dillon his third-career pole.
“We want to prove that we can win a race by the end of this year,” Dillon said. “This is big for us. I thought I messed up the lap truthfully. I got a lot of good speed off of [Turn] 2 but Turn 3 I turned in and missed my corner, but it worked out.”
Kevin Harvick qualified third, followed by Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson. Rounding out the top 10 were Paul Menard, Matt Kenseth, rookie Ryan Blaney, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch.
Jimmie Johnson, the winner of the past four Texas races, struggled and qualified 19th — his worst-ever starting position in 27 starts at the 1.5-mile track.
The good news for Johnson is that he’s the only driver among the eight remaining in the Chase assured of racing for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks. The six-time Sprint Cup champion claimed one of four available slots in the title decider by virtue of winning last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
All 40 drivers entered will start Sunday’s race.