Kurt Busch takes pole at Fontana in 2nd race back on track
FONTANA, California (AP) — Kurt Busch’s comeback from his season-opening suspension is gathering speed after claiming pole position on Friday for Sunday’s NASCAR race at Auto Club Speedway.
Busch qualified just ahead of his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet teammate Kevin Harvick.
Busch is returning from four months of off-track troubles involving his ex-girlfriend, who accused him of domestic assault. He wasn’t charged, but missed the first three races of this season under suspension.
“This is a privilege to have a chance to drive at this top level,” Busch said. “When it’s taken away from you, or you have made a mistake and you don’t get a chance to go out there and do it on your terms, it’s tough. So I don’t have anything to prove. I have my job to do, though, and that’s to win races.”
Busch returned last week with a fifth-place finish at Phoenix even while he’s still adjusting to NASCAR’s new rules package. He then claimed the pole at Fontana for the fourth time in his career, capitalizing on Stewart-Haas’ impressive engineering start to the season.
Busch even nudged past Harvick, the defending series champion on a two-race win streak and a dominant run of seven top-two finishes dating to last season.
Matt Kenseth was third in qualifying, and David Ragan finished fourth in the No. 18 Toyota normally driven by Kyle Busch, the injured two-time defending champion at Fontana.
Drivers are expecting the usual weekend intrigue caused by the heavy tire wear on Auto Club Speedway’s well-aged asphalt, where running five wide is possible and entertaining races are the rule.
The track east of Los Angeles once had two NASCAR races per year, but its schedule was trimmed to a single event in 2011 after fan support dwindled, particularly for the second race in the Labor Day weekend heat.
With only one date on the NASCAR calendar, attention has picked up again and Harvick would like to see that logic applied to some of the other 13 NASCAR tracks with two annual races.
“Sometimes, if you take one really great thing, you can really easily make them into two mediocres, and we do that all the time in our sport,” Harvick said.
“I would say 90 percent of them are one-race markets, but a lot of them still have two races.”