MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Kyle Busch's road to the championship round was made a little bit easier when he won the pole at Martinsville Speedway.
Busch, the Cup standings points leader, turned a lap at 96.254 mph around the Virginia paperclip to earn the top starting spot in today's race, the first of the third round of NASCAR's playoffs.
Eight drivers remain eligible for the title, but only four will advance to the season finale shootout.
A win in any of the three races in this round of the playoffs earns a driver an automatic berth.
Busch won Martinsville last year to earn a spot at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and he's been so good all year that advancing to the finale is almost a given. He said Saturday after qualifying that the pressure has been amped considerably.
“Anytime you're under pressure or under the amount of stress as what this round is to get yourself into the final four for Homestead, anytime you can kind of take a step back and have a clear head is a good time,” Busch said. “The pressure that sets in over these next two weeks if you're behind the cutoff line ... that can certainly wear on you during the week. You try to have other things to do to kind of take your mind off of it a little bit. This is what we live, eat, breathe, sleep, everything. It's always on our mind.”
The official lineup is not set until after today morning's inspection, and drivers whose cars fail inspection will start from the rear. Pit selection will occur after cars are inspected, and Busch is eager to claim the first stall on pit road to ease his exits during the race.
“Obviously starting position is important, but the opportunity is really to have that pit box,” Busch said. “That No. 1 pit box will hopefully do us good and we can have a good day, run up front much of the day and finish there.”
Clint Bowyer qualified second in a Ford from Stewart-Haas Racing, which has all four of its drivers in the field of eight. Bower's teammates Aric Almirola qualified fifth, Kurt Busch was seventh and Kevin Harvick 13th.
Chase Elliott, winner of two of the last three races, was the lowest-qualifying playoff driver at 21st.