Kurt Busch picks up first front-row start of season

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After making nine front-row starts throughout the 2013 season with Furniture Row Racing, Kurt Busch will find himself in familiar territory when it’s time to go racing Sunday at Pocono.

The Outlaw earned his first front-row start of 2014 (and his first such start with Stewart-Haas Racing) this afternoon in qualifying, narrowly missing the Pocono 400 pole by two one-thousandths of a second.

Busch said his team was focusing on getting the front end of his No. 41 SHR Chevrolet to settle into the track better, and was happy to see the new approach pay off.

“It’s great to cash in, be in position, and advance through knockout qualifying,” he said. “It’s something we’ve done this year but we haven’t positioned ourselves for a pole run in that final grouping of 12.

“[Racing] those final 12, you’ve got to be spot-on. After I made my [Round 3] lap, I felt like I left a little change on the track in Turn 1 – a little pocket change. So, to come this close to the pole, it shows our car’s got some speed in it and hopefully, that will translate to race day.”

Outside of his victory earlier this year at Martinsville, Busch has struggled mightily in 2014. Since winning on NASCAR’s oldest track, he’s had four DNFs and a top finish of 18th (Dover) in the last seven races.

But Busch is looking forward to using the multiple benefits of starting up front toward pulling him and his team out of their tailspin.

“It’s good for all day long on starting position, your race sequence, and our pit box [selection],” he said. “Daniel [Knost, crew chief] will get a nice pit box selection and that will help us with ease and congestion on pit road. And as the race progresses, we just have to make the right changes to the car.

“I’m glad we were able to apply something new to the car and see a good result right away. It’s not a big victory or a small victory. It’s just nice to confirm a change on the car and see it go in the right direction.”

Speaking further about his rookie crew chief, Busch said that it’s been great to see how Knost, a former engineer, has been able to grow into his role.

However, he hopes that he can get Knost to delegate more responsibilities to his crew mates as the summer progresses.

“Poor Daniel, he likes to do everything himself,” Busch said. “And in this game, there’s so much work that has to be done with templates, with car set-up, shocks, springs, sway bars – he has to rely on the talent of the guys around him that he’s positioned himself with that.

“That’s our next step – being able to allow the crew members to know that we’re going to grab another gear here during these summer months and advance as a team together. [We haven’t had] the results that we’ve wanted so far, so we all know we can work better and harder to make this 41 car faster.”

“Kurt Busch: 36,” which chronicles Busch’s historic bid to win the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, debuts this Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC. An hour-long “director’s cut” will air on NBCSN the following night at 11:30 p.m. ET.

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.