Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick gave Stewart- Haas Racing a front starting row sweep for Sunday's 400-mile Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway, with Busch winning his first pole in nearly two years and Harvick qualifying second.
Busch, the driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet for SHR and the 2004 champion in NASCAR's premier series, made a lap around this two-mile Southern California track at 185.142 mph for his 17th career pole in the series. His last pole occurred in May 2013 at Darlington (63 races ago). Busch's lap time was just 0.02 seconds ahead of his teammate, Harvick, the defending Sprint Cup champion.
This will be Busch's second start of the season after missing the first three races due to a NASCAR suspension. The 36-year-old driver was placed on suspension Feb. 20, two days before the Daytona 500, when NASCAR learned that a Delaware judge had concluded that he more than likely not committed an act of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll in his motorhome at Dover International Speedway last September. No criminal charges were filed against him.
Last Sunday at Phoenix, Busch finished fifth in his season debut.
After winning Friday's qualifying at Auto Club Speedway, he thanked his team co-owner, Gene Haas, for having confidence in him, despite his recent suspension and legal issues.
"Thank you, Gene, for believing in me," Busch said. "This is my job - come to the track, drive the car and put it up on the pole and go for wins. That is what Gene has told me to do from the get-go, and I'm glad I have this chance to go back out there and live up to why he hired me."
Busch claimed his track-record fourth pole at ACS. He won the April 2003 Sprint Cup race here. Busch led the way in Friday's lone practice with a lap at 186.741 mph.
"It feels good," he said. "The guys (No. 41 team) were just spot-on all day with all the adjustments. The car started off so fast, and it is all due to the work back at the shop. Thank you Stewart-Haas Racing. I appreciate it. No. 41 car up front feels good."
Busch has not won a race in the series since March 30, 2014 at Martinsville.
Harvick's lap in the final round of qualifying was clocked at 185.047 mph. He has finished either first or second in the previous seven races, a streak dating back to November at Texas. Harvick, who hails from nearby Bakersfield, California, is aiming for a sweep in NASCAR's three-week West Coast swing after winning at Las Vegas (March 8) and Phoenix.
It's the first time Harvick will start on the front row at this track.
"I got down into turn 3 and I was committed to the bottom and there were three cars on the apron that were cooling off," Harvick said of his final qualifying lap. "I wanted to run the apron because I ran it in the second round and thought that I knew what I needed to do in the third round. I got through (turns) 1 and 2 fairly good, got to the green really good and then I had to abort down here. But all-in-all it's still a good effort."
This is the second time SHR has swept the front starting row for a Sprint Cup race. Tony Stewart started on pole and Ryan Newman, then a driver for SHR, rolled off second in the July 2011 event at New Hampshire.
Matt Kenseth will start third in Sunday's Auto Club 400, followed by David Ragan, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski. Newman, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Martin Truex Jr. qualified ninth through 12th, respectively.
Joey Logano (starting 13th), Jimmie Johnson (14th), Carl Edwards (15th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (17th), Kasey Kahne (19th) and Stewart (20th) were among those drivers who did not make it out of the second round.
Brett Moffitt, substituting for Brian Vickers in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, qualified 30th. Vickers will miss this race and likely more events in the coming weeks after he experienced a reoccurrence of blood clots earlier this week, requiring him to take blood-thinning medication.
Moffitt hit the wall during his qualifying run and sustained damage to his No. 55 car.
"First and foremost, we're all thinking about Brian and hope he's doing okay," Moffitt said. "We're just struggling here. We need to find some speed. Hopefully, we'll be able to fix the car and go to work on race trim (in Saturday's practice sessions)."