Kyle Busch holds off Chase Elliott to earn pole for Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at Darlington

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Kyle Busch held off rookie Chase Elliott to earn the Coors Light Pole Award Friday afternoon for that evening’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 Nationwide Series race at Darlington Raceway.

Busch recorded a best speed of 173.681 mph in the second of his final two qualifying laps around Darlington’s unique 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval.

It was Busch’s 37th career Nationwide Series pole, and also extends a string where he has earned at least one pole in each of the last 11 NNS seasons that he’s competed in.

“To win another pole in another season is pretty good, and we’d like to come out of here with another win tonight,” Busch said.

Not only is he on the pole, but Joe Gibbs Racing is the likely overall favorite, having won seven of the last eight NNS races at the so-called Track Too Tough to Tame.

Elliott, who earned his first career NNS win last week at Texas, was just a tick away from Busch, recording the second-fastest speed at 173.448 mph.

“(Busch) just put up a little bit better lap than I did,” Elliott said. “I just have to improve and try to do a better job next time. Regardless, we got a good starting spot for us. We just have to make sure we hold on to track position tonight.”

Another JGR driver, Matt Kenseth, was third (173.106), followed by fourth-fastest Kevin Harvick (171.662) and Ty Dillon as the fifth-fastest (171.249).

Among those that failed to reach the final 12-driver knockout round were Texas Sprint Cup winner Joey Logano, Dylan Kwasniewski, Brendan Gaughan, James Buescher and Ryan Reed.

With just over a minute left in the third and final qualifying round, Kyle Larson’s broke loose, spun and he kissed the inside retaining wall with the right side of his Chevrolet.

Damage did not look significant, and even though the race was due to start just over two hours later, his team is going to try and repair Larson’s Chevrolet so he can take advantage of his 12th-place qualifying position before the wreck occurred.

That was not the case for Larson earlier Friday, when he wrecked his primary car in the first of two Sprint Cup practice sessions, forcing him to go to a backup car for Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 race.

The green flag for Friday night’s NNS race drops at 7:30 pm ET and will be televised on ESPN2.

Here’s how Friday night’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 stacks up:

Row 1

Kyle Busch 173.681 mph, Chase Elliott 173.448

Row 2

Matt Kenseth 173.106, Kevin Harvick171.662

Row 3

Ty Dillon 171.249, Chris Buescher 170.922

Row 4

Brian Scott 170.857, Regan Smith 170.572

Row 5

Elliott Sadler 170.283, Trevor Bayne 169.631

Row 6

Cale Conley 168.914, Kyle Larson 132.112

Row 7

Brendan Gaughan 169.836, Ryan Sieg 169.789

Row 8

Joey Logano 169.543, Landon Cassill 168.810

Row 9

Dylan Kwasniewski 168.602, Ryan Reed 168.538

Row 10

Josh Wise 168.526, Mike Bliss 168.394

Row 11

Jeremy Clements 167.853, James Buescher 167.476

Row 12

J.J. Yeley 167.436, David Starr 166.259

Row 13

Dakoda Armstrong 166.631, Jeffrey Earnhardt 166.518

Row 14

Mike Wallace 166.349, Tanner Berryhill 166.236

Row 15

Todd Bodine 166.197, Eric McClure 165.693

Row 16

Kevin Lepage 165.009, Joey Gase 164.490

Row 17

Matt DiBenedetto 163.696, Tommy Joe Martins 163.462

Row 18

Derrike Cope 161.790, Carlos Contreras 160.816

Row 19

Matt Carter 160.507, Jeff Green 160.397

Row 20

Mike Harmon 157.808, Blake Koch 156.015

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Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.