NASCAR: This time at Indy, it’s just stock cars for Kurt Busch

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The last time Kurt Busch was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he was embarking on a quest to become only the second driver to complete all 1,100 miles of the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in the same day.

While his quest ended with engine failure in the ‘600’, the first part of his Double went almost flawlessly as he managed to finish sixth at Indy in his first open-wheel race.

Now, the Outlaw is returning to the world’s greatest race course. But there will be no Double this time around – just 400 miles in his No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet on Sunday at the Brickyard 400.

However, the memories remain from this past May of pushing to not only perform well in a different discipline, but uphold NASCAR’s honor in the world’s biggest race.

“In the world of NASCAR, we race 40 weekends a year and it consumes your life and sometimes can burn you out,” Busch recalled recently. “But Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., is the guy who threw down the gauntlet – ‘You are representing NASCAR’ – and at that point, it hit me that this was bigger than my personal goals.

“I was going to be judged as the only pure NASCAR driver with no Indy experience to go there and compete with the best of the best in their biggest race. I never seem to do things the easy way. I had to pick the year that Indy was at its most competitive.”

But Busch was able to hang with IndyCar’s finest, and that brought him a world of respect from competitors and fans alike.

“When I landed on the front straightaway at Charlotte after finishing Indy, everybody was applauding me like I was no longer the bad guy,” he said. “I was their NASCAR guy coming home, who went to Indy and made them proud so much that people were saying, ‘We always knew he was a racer.'”

Busch is now focusing on what it will take to conquer Indy in a stock car. He’s never won there in 13 Brickyard 400s. But it’s not like he’s the only that’s trying to solve the place. Of the 16 drivers that currently occupy the Chase Grid, he’s among a group of 12 that’s winless there.

A victory on Sunday would give him two for the year (Martinsville), which in turn would make him a virtual lock for the post-season. But it will not be easy.

“Indianapolis is tough,” Busch said. “It’s been a tough place for me but it became even more of a challenge when they did the diamond cutting of the track.

“It’s just hard trying to find the balance you need that works at the beginning and will get you to the end of the race. We tend to have long, green-flag runs there and, for some reason, it has just been a track where I’m still trying to figure out the nuances you need to have a proper-handling car that gets around there and is fast.”

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.