DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth had two of the strongest cars in the season-opening Daytona 500 but had nothing to show for it after a pair of engine failures.
The Joe Gibbs Racing duo is determined not to let that happen Saturday night in their return to Daytona International Speedway.
Busch and Kenseth swept the front row in Friday qualifying, with Busch turning a lap at 193.723 mph to win the pole. Kenseth was second at 193.299.
It’s Busch’s third pole of the season, 13th of his career, but first ever for a restrictor plate race.
“I’ve not had many opportunities for me to win poles at restrictor plate races, so I’ve got to thank the team, all the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing that did such a good job building a slick race car,” Busch said. “It’s a team effort coming to these places and having great race cars. I’m really excited to be starting up front, especially with my teammate Matt Kenseth on the front row with us.”
Kenseth led 86 laps at Daytona in February and was out front with teammates Busch and Denny Hamlin right behind him when his engine failed. Two laps later, Busch was headed to the garage with his own race-ending failure.
“We were lined up 1-2-3 when I broke and Kyle broke shortly after that,” said Kenseth. “Our plate stuff has been really fast this year. Qualifying doesn’t always mean a lot at a superspeedway, but it’s nice to start up front. Hopefully we can keep it up and stay in front of any potential trouble.”
Clint Bowyer qualified third and Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. was fifth as Toyota drivers took four of the first five spots. MWR team co-owner Michael Waltrip was seventh.
It was a strong showing for the Toyota drivers, who have battled various engine woes all season as manufacturer Toyota Racing Development has struggled to find the right balance of speed and durability.
Kenseth was pleased with the showing.
“They are always looking to get more power and you are always trying to get better reliability,” Kenseth said. “A huge part of our success all year has obviously been our engines and TRD. They are a very important piece not only to our success at Joe Gibbs Racing but also Michael Waltrip Racing.”
Bowyer then interrupted Kenseth.
“It’s not really fair. Yours was better than mine,” Bowyer said of being outqualified by the JGR duo.
Kasey Kahne prevented a Toyota sweep by wedging his Chevrolet in at fourth. He’s had terrible results at plate tracks this year because he was wrecked in the Daytona 500 and at Talladega by Busch.
On Saturday, Kahne will start in the row behind Busch. But Busch wasn’t expecting intentional payback.
“That’s a real legitimate question?” Busch said when asked if he was concerned about Kahne. “I think we know that Kasey is a lot better than that. No, it doesn’t have any worry or concern on me.”
Paul Menard was sixth in a Chevrolet, and MWR co-owner Michael Waltrip was seventh in another Toyota.
Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson was eighth, followed by rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and his Roush-Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle as the highest-qualifying Fords.
Danica Patrick wound up 11th in in her return to Daytona, where she became the first woman to start from the pole in the season-opening Daytona 500.
“Wind definitely plays a factor even from qualifying here at the beginning of the year for the 500 when we were on the pole there was certain spots that I gained and lost on that lap,” Patrick said. “We kind of figured it was probably a wind thing.”