Date: Sept. 5, 2015
Event: Southern 500 Qualifying (Round 25 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway (1.366-mile egg-shaped oval)
Pole Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (27.492 seconds at 178.874 mph)
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, led the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) contingent Saturday at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway by setting the second-fastest lap in qualifying for Sunday’s Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Busch turned a lap of 27.691 seconds at 177.588 mph on the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval in the final qualifying round.
“Our first lap out was almost too fast,” said Busch, who has two top-five finishes in 18 career Sprint Cup starts at Darlington. “The second outing I got really sideways through (turns) three and four but the car was good enough to be able to make it back and still be in the top-five. To have a shot at the pole is all a guy can ask for and we almost had it with our special Haas Automation paint scheme, but an outside pole is great.”
Qualifying consisted of three rounds. The first was 20 minutes, with every driver on the track vying to set the fastest lap. The 24 fastest drivers from the first round advanced to the second, 10-minute round. The fastest 12 drivers from that session advanced to the final, five-minute round of qualifying where they battled for the pole. Positions 1-12 were set by speeds in the final round. Positions 13-24 were set by speeds in the second round. The remaining 43-car field was set by speeds posted by those who did not advance past the first round.
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, qualified third with a time of 27.718 seconds at 177.415 mph.
“We were fairly good in the first two rounds,” said Harvick, the defending winner of the Southern 500. “I felt like I could have pushed harder in those two rounds to go faster. Then in that last round, we just kind of missed the balance on our Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevy. We were just too loose and didn’t quite adjust it enough to keep the tightness in the car like you need to go fast. We have a really, really fast car, so we’re looking forward to tomorrow night.”
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, qualified 17th with a time of 27.776 seconds at 177.045 mph.
“The balance on the Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet was just a little too loose in the second round,” said Stewart, who is still in search of his first Sprint Cup win at Darlington. “The track will be pretty different tomorrow night and I feel like we have a pretty good car for the race.”
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, qualified 30th with a time of 27.844 seconds at 176.613 mph. Patrick will start at the rear of the field for Sunday night’s race after an incident in qualifying forced the team to the backup car.
“The GoDaddy Chevy was just too loose in qualifying today and got into the wall on our third run, so we have to go to the backup car for the race,” said Patrick, who will make her third career start at Darlington Sunday. “It’s definitely not the position we wanted to be in going into tomorrow, but it’s a long race, so we’ll just try our best to gain track position every chance we get.”
Brad Keselowski led the final round of knockout qualifying by taking the pole with a lap of 27.492 seconds at 178.874 mph. It was his ninth career Sprint Cup pole, his first of the season and his first at Darlington.
The 10 other drivers who made it to the final round of qualifying were Harvick, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola and Paul Menard. All are listed in the order they’ll start Sunday’s race.
The Southern 500 gets underway at 7 p.m. EDT Sunday with live coverage provided by NBC.