Brooklyn, Mich. – Kurt Busch won the pole for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 Friday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway.
Busch, competing for Stewart-Haas Racing in the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford, had a lap of 203.361 mph around the two-mile superspeedway.
“I had confidence in the car and these guys had it dialed in,” said Busch during a post-qualifying interview.
Busch has won three times at MIS (2003, 2005, 2015). He sits seventh in points this season with a pair of top-five finishes.
Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski will start alongside Busch, going 203.166 mph in the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford for Team Penske.
Kyle Busch, Kurt’s younger brother, was third-fastest in his No. 18 M&M’s Red White & Blue Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (203,120).
Kevin Harvick, who owns a series-high five wins, will start fourth in the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford for Stewart-Haas and Joey Logano, Keselowski’s teammate, fifth in his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford.
Ryan Newman was the fastest Chevrolet driver, 11th, in the No. 31 Okuma Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.
The FireKeepers Casino 400 will get underway Sunday at 2 p.m.
Almirola enjoying solid season
Aric Almirola is enjoying his first year with Stewart-Haas, taking over the seat previously held by Danica Patrick.
Almirola has run up front in the No. 10 Ford, earning six top-10 finishes in the first 14 races and sitting 11th in points. He will start Sunday’s race on the third row, qualifying sixth-fastest at 201.607.
Almirola said it has been fun competing for a fast team like Stewart-Haas which showcases Harvick’s No. 4 Ford.
“It’s been great to show up here and sort of fit right in and have a great group of guys to work with,” said Almirola, 34, who has one win, in the 2014 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, giving him his lone appearance in the fight for the championship.
“Obviously, fast cars help everything. I’ve been in a Ford going in on seven years now. I have a great relationship with Ford Motor Company and all the guys at Ford Performance. I think what they’ve done over the last five or six years, turning Ford Performance around in NASCAR and just putting a lot of resource and effort into the NASCAR program has really showed off, and now you’re seeing Fords on a regular basis contending for wins and winning races and we’re right in the hunt for the manufacturers championship.”
Ford drivers have won seven races, Toyota has six wins and Chevrolet one.
The last Ford driver to win the series championship was Kurt Busch for Roush Racing in 2004.
A win Sunday would all but guarantee Almirola a spot in the playoffs. His best finish was sixth at Bristol. He finished seventh three times, including last Sunday at Pocono.
Almirola competed for Richard Petty Motorsports his first six full seasons in the series before moving on to Stewart-Haas this year.
Petty struggling with Chevy
Bubba Wallace has struggled getting up to speed in Almirola’s old ride, the No. 43 car made famous by Richard Petty with RPM changing from Ford to Chevrolet this season. This is Chevy’s first year with the new entry Camaro ZL1. Ford will bring in the Mustang in '19, replacing the Fusion.
When asked how Wallace, who qualified 28th, is doing in his first full season in the series, the 80-year-old Petty replied: “If we can give him a better car he’d run better. He’s doing pretty good with what he’s got to do with right now.
“Chevrolets are a little behind and we’re behind the Chevrolets. It’s the first year with Chevrolet so we’re having to learn that too. We have a rookie car and a rookie driver and we’re trying to put them all together. It’s coming around a little bit slower than we’ve wanted.”
The same could be said for Richard Childress Racing and his drivers which include his grandson Dillon and Ryan Newman.
Dillon is locked into the playoffs with his win, but sits 18th in points with Newma, (22nd with three top-10s).
Paul Menard left RCR to drive for the Wood Brothers in the No. 21 Ford and has taken advantage of Ford power, sitting 17th, just outside the playoffs. Menard qualified 15th.
Sheldon Creed wins ARCA race
Brandon Jones was looking for his third straight win at MIS in the ARCA series Friday and showed he had the power earlier in the day by winning the pole.
But Jones didn’t reach Victory Lane. He suffered an overheating problem and lasted just 27 laps of the 100-lap race.
With Jones out of the picture, Sheldon Creed took the lead and was dominant throughout the race, turning a lap of 187-plus on Lap 56 in his No. 28 United Rentals Toyota, building an eight second lead over Riley Herbst two-thirds through the race and going on to earn his first victory in the series.
Creed was the sixth driver to win in the eight races this season. Herbst finished second and Michael Self, third, giving Toyota the podium sweep. Gus Dean placed fourth in a Chevrolet.
Jones will compete in today's Xfinity race at MIS which gets underway at 1:30.
NASCAR at MIS
FireKeepers Casino 400
When: 2 p.m., Sunday
Support race: NASCAR Xfinity Series LTi Printing 250, 1:30 p.m., Saturday