NASCAR: Surprise pole winner for Sunday’s race at Charlotte, plus Friday observations – Charlotte Observer

Kyle Busch was the king at pole position in the first round of the NASCAR playoffs (he won it twice in three races and came second last week at Dover), but his streak of excellence came to an end Friday night. None of that is to say that Busch was poor, as he still qualified fourth.

But Denny Hamlin, currently seventh in the standings, was better and took the pole for the Bank of America 500 on Sunday. It’s his first pole of the season.

“I was pretty pleased with the lap times,” Hamlin said. “We still could get better, and hopefully tomorrow in practice, we get our car tuned in and ready to run 500 miles.”

Matt Kenseth, 11th in the standings and needing a boost to advance to the third round, will start second. Kevin Harvick will start third after looking promising earlier in the day.

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Some other observations from Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

▪  In Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final season, different tracks have awarded him with gifts, including last weekend at Dover, which gave him a replica of his car from his 2001 win the weekend after the Sept 11 terrorist attacks. Charlotte Motor Speedway is Earnhardt’s home track, so it was only fitting that it gave him something as well. The track announced that it was establishing the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Concussion Research Fund at Carolinas Healthcare System’s Levine Children’s Hospital in his honor, and donating $100,000 to kick-start the fund.

▪  Speaking of Earnhardt, he slammed into the track during practice and was visibly frustrated. His team quickly unloaded a backup car from their hauler since the right side of Earnhardt’s first car saw substantial damage. With limited time to work on the replacement car, Earnhardt qualified a disappointing 23rd.

▪  This will be the last year that Charlotte Motor Speedway’s fall race is a traditional course, as the track announced its revolutionary Roval (half-road, half-oval) course on Thursday. Drivers were asked about the new course on Friday, and reactions were mixed at best. That said, Kyle Larson, currently third in the standings, said he understands why NASCAR opted for the new course.

“I don’t really know what to expect,” Larson said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a good race or a bad race or an embarassing race or what, but it’s going to be exciting nonetheless, and I think the fans will enjoy it.”

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▪  After this week’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, one point of discussion that followed the tragedy is the safety of drivers in Victory Lane celebrations. Larson said that he hadn’t thought much about the issue, but that he was confident in NASCAR’s security team. Truex was of the same mindset.

“I hadn’t really thought about it to be honest with you,” Truex said. “It’s really hard to think about that right now, and it’s sad that we have to talk about it. It’s awful to see what happened there.”

▪  A bit of irony at the racetrack, as NASCAR announced its new partnership with weather.com just in time for this weekend’s expected foul weather. With Tropical Storm Nate and other systems supposedly dropping tons of rain on Charlotte and the area, it remains to be seen if any events will be delayed or called off.

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