June 09, 2017

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) Kyle Busch walked off a podium and noted he was glad the press conference microphones were affixed to stands.

No chance of a mic drop.

Busch poked fun at his terse response-and-drop to a question a couple of weeks ago that was scrutinized around NASCAR. Busch could have made the boastful move with another outstanding qualifying effort.

With his crew chief suspended, Busch turned a lap of 179.151 mph on Friday to win the pole at Pocono Raceway.

Busch has suddenly mastered the art of starting first. He won the pole last week at Dover International Speedway in a race that became derailed when a tire came off the No. 18 Toyota during a pit stop.

That's a big no-no in NASCAR and the Joe Gibbs Racing team was slapped with some big penalties. Busch crew chief Adam Stevens, tire carrier Kenny Barber and tire changer Jake Seminara were suspended four races for the infraction, and their punishments start at Pocono.

Race engineer Ben Beshore is the interim crew chief.

''I think it just shows Adam Stevens is able to prepare his team, prepare his cars,'' Busch said. ''You've got to have good personnel and Adam chooses all that. Joe gives us all the right tools we need in order to be successful.''

This might be a theme at Pocono - big brother Kurt Busch won this race last year with his crew chief serving a one-race suspension.

Martin Truex Jr. starts second and Matt Kenseth third for a 1-2-3 start for Toyota. Ryan Blaney was fourth, followed by Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski, all Ford drivers.

Darrell Wallace Jr. starts 16th in the No. 43 Ford and will become the first black driver in a Cup race since 2006. Wallace is filling in for injured driver Aric Almirola at Richard Petty Motorsports. Petty, who won 200 NASCAR races, stood by Wallace and offered encouragement.

''Hopefully, RP likes it,'' Wallace said. ''The King is over there smiling, I hope, maybe a little grin. A little fist bump like he gave me earlier would be good.''

The 23-year-old Wallace, the son of a white father and black mother, will join at least seven other black drivers in its 69-year history who reached the Cup level.

''It's a big moment for me and a big moment for the sport, so the media is going to be there,'' he said. ''That's common sense. I enjoy it. I love talking to (the media). It's a lot of fun unless it's a bad day, then leave me alone.''

Kyle Busch has had plenty of good days at all the Cup tracks. The 2015 series champion has 38 career Cup wins and has won at every track - except Pocono and Charlotte Motor Speedway. He has just four top-five finishes at 24 career Pocono races and was 31st and ninth in the two races here last year.

Busch will go for his first checkered flag with a backup crew.

''Yeah, it's a big penalty, and it's unfortunate the way the rule was written, the intent of that rule wasn't quite what transpired there,'' Busch said. ''We live and die by that rule book I guess, so the consequences are there.''

Other items of note at Pocono:

JUNIOR STRUGGLES

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start from the rear of the field because of an engine change in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Earnhardt, winless in his final season, is 22nd in points and 99 points out of the final playoff spot. He swept Pocono in 2014.

He turned a qualifying lap with the new engine.

''We felt like it was a good idea to go out there and make a run and get a good idea to how our race set-up feels for (Saturday),'' he said. ''We went out and it was almost fast enough to make the second round. That was pretty impressive for what I thought.''

JIMMIE'S DAY

Jimmie Johnson starts 19th in a busy week that saw him at Dover move into a tie for sixth on NASCAR's career wins list with 83 and then have a form of skin cancer cut out of his right shoulder on Monday.

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More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org

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