Truex will start from the pole Sunday after posting the fastest lap in the final NASCAR Cup qualifying round. Busch will start beside him.
Fans have seen these two drivers on the front row several times this year. Busch has won eight poles this year, and four of those times he has had Truex start beside him.
“I’m glad, for once, we’re first and he’s not,” Truex said after his second pole of the season. “I’ve been second to him a lot in qualifying. It’s cool for us to get a pole. … We’ve been on the front row quite a few times together.”
The duo know what it’s like to lead laps. They have led 43 percent of all laps in 2017, with Truex leading 23 percent and Busch leading 20 percent.
Busch will seem content to let Truex lead rather than having an early battle (they had a wreck earlier this year racing for the lead with about 50 laps left at Indianapolis). That might be a smart move, as the teams are using the Goodyear tire from Darlington and not the one used at Dover in June — a race in which Busch had a flat.
Busch felt he might have used too much of his tires in the opening two rounds of qualifying. Drivers start the race with the set of tires they use in qualifying.
“I’m not too particular in burning my tires up and getting out there and going after the lead right off the bat,” said Busch, who indicated he is happier with the tire brought this weekend. “We’ll just kind of settle in and ride, if possible, and just kind of focus on the rest of the race.”
For those chasing Truex and Busch, they certainly are not surprised. The leaders are both in Toyotas, and they were followed in qualifying by the Chevrolet of Kyle Larson and then the Toyotas of Matt Kenseth, Daniel Suarez and Denny Hamlin.
All but Suarez are playoff drivers. Larson — along with Truex, Busch and Brad Keselowski — have already qualified for the quarterfinal round of 12. With the playoff system eventually pitting four drivers on equal footing at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the goal in some ways is to just remain in contention and hope to catch Truex and Busch on that final weekend.
“It comes down to Homestead, but ultimately, I feel like we’ve been on their heels, but we’ve never been on their foot,” Hamlin said. “We’ve always been one step behind those guys in speed.
“Consistently, we’ve definitely gained. Over the course of the summer, they were three-tenths [of a second] faster than us. I think now it’s like a tenth.”
Hamlin said he needs to find where to make that up.
“I’m just trying to learn from them, honestly,” Hamlin said. “There’s no animosity from me. If they’re running that fast with very similar stuff, then I need to look in the mirror and figure out how I can be faster.”
Maybe the only real surprise in qualifying was Jamie McMurray, one of the drivers currently in the playoff but on the bubble as far as elimination, having a poor qualifying performance. He’ll start 26th.
McMurray, at 11th in the standings, has a nine-point lead on Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon, a 10-point lead on Ryan Newman, a 26-point edge on Kurt Busch and a 30-point cushion on Kasey Kahne.
If none of those six drivers win, it very likely could come down to two of those advancing into the next round by points.
Newman has the best starting spot among them as he will roll off eighth. Stenhouse starts 15th, Kahne 21st and Dillon 23rd.
“It’s a little championship run here for all [of us on the bubble]. … We’ve got to make it happen,” Dillon said.
Among the playoff drivers who should advance to the next round barring any disaster at Dover, Kevin Harvick starts ninth, Ryan Blaney starts 11th, Chase Elliott 12th and Jimmie Johnson — an 11-time Dover winner — starts 17th.
“The great thing is just how fast the car was off the truck,” Johnson said. “I know when it comes to race time we will be fine.”