Busch on the pole for NASCAR’s longest race of the season

CONCORD, N.C. >> Kurt Busch won pole for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the only event in the biggest one-day car race.

The Sunday before Memorial Day would be a motorsport smorgasbord beginning with Formula 1 at the Monaco Grand Prix, then IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500, followed by NASCAR and the longest race on the calendar.

The coronavirus pandemic has wiped out the first part of the F1 schedule and, like IndyCar, is still waiting for its season. Roger Penske, the new owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has moved the Indy 500. It is the first time since 1946 that the 500 is not ridden on Memorial Day weekend.

NASCAR was able to continue for the third time in seven days under a health plan approved by government officials, allowing the sport to resume after a ten-week hiatus. NASCAR hosted three events in South Carolina, and the Coca-Cola 600 kicks off four consecutive race days in Charlotte.

Team owner Chip Ganassi is said to have been on Indy in early Sunday to celebrate his 62nd birthday to the 500 before flying to Charlotte Motor Speedway to view his two NASCAR teams. Instead, the owner watched television from his Pittsburgh home as Busch drove a lap of 181.269 mph to earn his first pole of the season and third top 10 start of 2020.

Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson qualified second and was followed by Hendrick Mototsports teammate Chase Elliott.

Matt Kenseth qualified in his third race since Ganassi retired and qualified fourth in a strong start to the day for the organization.

Tyler Reddick finished fifth for Richard Childress Racing, a spot ahead of teammate Austin Dillon when Chevrolet drivers reached the top six of qualifying.

NASCAR reported health examination issues and all drivers were able to qualify before the 600.

Matt DiBenedetto and Aric Almirola crashed during qualifying. DiBenedetto needed a backup Ford from The Wood Brothers, and Stewart-Haas Racing repaired Almirola’s damaged Ford.

Charlotte Motor Speedway invited team owners to follow the race from the only 13,000-square-foot restaurant, The Speedway Club. A circuit spokesman was unaware that owners accepted the invitation. Most were not present at the first two races at Darlington Raceway, and unless they have a central race day, NASCAR has discouraged them from using one of the 16 allocated grid spaces per car.

Charlotte Motor Speedway has a tower of 52 private apartments overlooking the first corner of the track. Team owner Richard Childress owns an apartment, but a circuit spokesman was unable to confirm that Childress intended to watch the 600 from there. Apartment owners were allowed to let five people in during the race.

Track officials treat the 600 as an elaborate tribute to the military and the fallen heroes, but most have been dropped because spectators are not yet allowed to attend NASCAR races. NASCAR president Steve Phelps told the Associated Press that he didn’t think spectators would at least race through Talladega on June 21, the latest race posting NASCAR’s current revised schedule.

NASCAR has printed 20 national series races on the calendar between Talladega and the May 17 resumption at Darlington Raceway.

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