Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway may be the NASCAR Cup Series’ third race since the return of racing from the 10-week hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Sunday afternoon’s qualifying for the race was the first qualifying session across NASCAR’s three national series since the sanctioning body’s return, as starting grids for the previous races were set by a random draw or based on the finishing order of the previous race. Kurt Busch claimed the pole Sunday with a 29.79-second/181-269 mph lap late in the qualifying session.
“I’m just so proud of [crew chief] Matt McCall and all our guys and the way we have to communicate right now and get through everything as far as those last-minute details and those fine adjustments,” Busch said. “But, wow, what a Chevrolet brigade up front. This is pretty sweet! GearWrench is on our car only a few times a year and I really want to push them up front. This is an awesome pole. I was more geared up, in my mind, towards downforce and being ready for 600 miles, so this means Matt McCall has something up his sleeve and we should be good tonight. This is a great run and happy birthday, Chip [Ganassi, car owner]!”
Chevrolet swept the front three rows of the starting grid. Jimmie Johnson was second at the end of qualifying to start next to Busch on the front row. Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott qualified third. Qualifying fourth through sixth were Matt Kenseth, Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon.
Busch was one of the last drivers to get onto the track to make a qualifying run, going out 37th of 40 drivers. When he did make his attempt, he knocked Johnson from the provisional pole.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Johnson combined to give HMS representation atop the scoring pylon through most of the qualifying session. Byron went out early, fourth, and claimed the provisional pole starting position. He held that position until Johnson went out 19th.
By the end of qualifying, Byron was 10th.
Elliott, first, went out 27th in the qualifying order to attempt to challenge his teammates, but Matt DiBenedetto hit the wall as Elliott got up to speed. As a result, Elliott was given a second change to make a qualifying run after a stoppage in on-track activity for track cleanup. When Elliott went back out for his official qualifying attempt, he posted the second-fastest lap, to that point.
Qualifying was halted another time when Aric Almirola spun late in the qualifying, two cars before Busch made his eventual pole-winning attempt. After their issues DiBenedetto wound up 33rd and Almirola last.
Other top-10 qualifiers included Joey Logano in seventh, Martin Truex Jr. in eighth and Brad Keselowski in 10th.
COCA-COLA 600 STARTING LINEUP