Kurt Busch focused on present Chase battle for FRR

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Kurt Busch may be heading for Stewart-Haas Racing next season, but there’s still the job of putting Furniture Row Racing into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Two regular season races remain before the Chase begins, and Busch feels they’re the most important two races in team history.

“We won’t have any type of cushion whatsoever,” he said on Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “We have to race these next two against right now I see the Penske cars [Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano] as the two we are racing heads up.

“After Sunday night, after the Atlanta race, we will see exactly what numbers are going to be in front of us and how that will play out, but we can’t go there to run 10th. We have to go there and run top five in these next two races.”

Busch’s attempt to earn a Chase berth took a hit last weekend at Bristol. A damaged right rear wheel hub relegated him to a 31st-place finish after he had led early in the race.

That’s pretty much brought the margin for error to zero for “The Outlaw,” who is six points out of the Top 10 in 12th position with no wins.

“The Chase for us started a few weeks back,” he said. “We’ve had to be perfect and run sixth and run third and run these top fives up against the stats every week.

“When we had a week like we had last week with the right-rear hub falling off while we are leading the race, those are things that are tough to overcome.”

Busch has been competitive lately at Atlanta, with two victories and four Top-10s in his last six starts on the 1.5-mile oval. He’ll start 32nd for tomorrow night’s Advocare 500.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.