CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Kurt Busch felt like a kid again this week. He spent two full days in a testing simulator, trying to figure out the best way to maneuver around the new “roval” course at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a hybrid of a road course and oval that has NASCAR drivers staying up at night pondering how to conquer it — or at least a way to avoid crashing and advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Busch may have found something in the testing that others are still trying to learn, beating out A.J. Allmendinger to take the pole for Sunday’s race in his No. 41 Ford. “I turned 40 this year and there I am on the simulator acting like it’s a video game,” Busch said with a laugh. “But you have to do those things.”
Busch the said key is to not “overdrive “in the next corner trying to pick up time lost in the previous corner. “I think that’s an important fundamental aspect of going into a new style of track,” Busch said.
Busch called it “really special” to lead the field at the roval, his fourth pole of the season. The roval is unlike anything used before in NASCAR featuring a 17-turn, 2.28-mile course has a 35-foot change in elevation. It is going to require drivers to think outside the box, particularly those who enter the elimination race in need of a good showing to advance to the round of 12.
“This track is really slick and it’s challenging in a lot of areas,” said playoff contender Erik Jones, who qualified 12th. Denny Hamlin, one of four drivers on the outside looking in at the playoff race and in need of a strong finish Sunday, was one of several drivers who had problems adjusting to the new circuit which runs part of the race in the infield at CMS. He wrecked earlier in practice and qualifying and will start 27th.
That came after Hamlin ran over the blue “turtle” curbs designed to keep drivers off the chicanes and hit the wall in practice. He crashed again in qualifying, and — sensing the urgency of the moment — got out of the car and began helping his crew fix the damage to help him get back on the roval.
The Big Three
NASCAR’s “Big Three” also struggled. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all failed to reach the final round of qualifying and will start outside of the top 12. “To figure this place out is a little tricky,” Truex said, who has already secured a spot in the next round of the playoffs. Brad Keselowski, who is one of the hottest drivers in the field coming into the race, also failed to reach the final round.
No Ride, No Problem
The front row consists of two drivers currently without rides next season. Busch wasn’t retained by Stewart Haas Racing, and JTG Daugherty Racing announced Friday before the race that Ryan Preece would replace Allmendinger in the No. 47 Chevrolet next season. “I’ve got nothing to lose, (because) I don’t have a job,” Allmendinger said.
Hendrick’s Good Run
It has been a disappointing season for the Chevrolets, who have just two wins. But Hendrick Motosports cars fared well in qualifying, placing three — Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson — in the top six.
There was plenty of intrigue in the 50-minute practice session earlier in the day. Kyle Busch was fastest, but also received a penalty for driving through one of the chicanes on the course. Bubba Wallace spun out, and Aric Almirola went off the course entirely hitting tire barrier. Austin Dillon hit the tire barrier exiting the backstretch chicane and heavily damaged his car.
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By STEVE REED, AP Sports Writer