Kyle Larson was about to discard his race suit and begin relaxing after it appeared Kurt Busch had bettered his time in qualifying for the NASCAR All-Star race.
Then came word of Busch's penalty — thrusting Larson back into the spotlight Friday.
Larson will start on the pole Saturday night in the NASCAR All-Star race after Busch was assessed a 10-second penalty when race officials discovered he had two loose lug nuts on his No. 41 Ford following a mandatory pit stop as part of the unique three-lap qualifying event.
Larson had an average speed of 144.839 mph over three laps Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch will start alongside Larson after finishing one one-hundredth of a second behind Larson.
It was Larson's first pole in his first attempt at All-Star qualifying. He ran in the NASCAR All-Star race last year, but the qualifying was rained out.
"It's pretty cool," Larson said. "We were just hoping to finish in the top eight."
Kurt Busch was not immediately available for comment.
Larson was the slowest of the five drivers to advance to the second round.
As the first driver on the track for the second round, he set the tone with three mistake-free laps and a solid pit stop. Johnson bolted past his pit stop costing him valuable time, while first-round leader Kevin Harvick struggled with his car's handling. Harvick qualified third, one spot ahead of Johnson.
Kurt Busch will start fifth.
Denny Hamlin will start ninth after turning to a backup car in qualifying following a wreck in practice.
"I went into turn three a little bit hesitant to try to just see what was going on with the car and it just — it was backward as soon as I let out of the gas — really weird," Hamlin said.
Sixteen drivers participated in qualifying and are guaranteed a spot in the field, including four-time winner Johnson and last year's champion Joey Logano. Four more drivers will be added to the field Saturday — three from the Monster Energy Open and one through a fan vote.
The 70-lap All-Star event which pays tribute to Charlotte's "One Hot Night" of 25 years ago — the first All-Star night race at CMS — and will ultimately come down to one 10-lap shootout for the $1 million winner-take-all prize.
NASCAR has once again tweaked the rules.
Only 10 drivers will qualify to compete in the final 10-lap shootout. They're also allowing teams to use one set of "softer tires" to use during one of the four race segments.
The strategy will be whether to use them early to get into the final 10-lap shootout or wait until the end. If a driver decides to save the tires for the final shootout, they must start at the back of the field and weave their way up front.
Larson said he isn't sure when he will run on the softer tires.
"You have to run the tire at some point and in practice it did seem to have three- to four-tenths of more speed in it and I think it will be even more impactful when the sun goes down," Larson said.
Kyle Busch suggested that it might not be worthwhile to use the softer tires if he makes the shootout. He said they aren't as fast as he thought they would be in practice, giving only three-tenths of the second advantage over the older tires.
"It's not a huge, significant difference," Kyle Busch said.
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