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Rain gives Kurt Busch pole as drivers chase $1 million

CONCORD, N.C. — Denny Hamlin came to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday as one of NASCAR’s hottest drivers and guaranteed the first pit stall for the All-Star race.

Then a blown engine and a band of showers changed the dynamics for the nonpoints event that pays $1 million to the winner.

A few hours after a cloud of smoke trailed Hamlin’s car early in practice Friday, the unique three-lap qualifying format with a mandatory four-tire pit stop was rained out, giving Las Vegas native Kurt Busch the pole for today’s race simply because he was first in the qualifying draw.

“It feels great. It puts us that much closer to a million dollars,” Busch said. “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and my boat put the best lap down today.”

Joey Logano will start on the outside of the front row for the four-segment, 100-lap race. Brad Keselowski will start third, followed by Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch and David Reutimann.

Hamlin has won three of the last seven Sprint Cup races, and his team finished first in Wednesday’s Pit Crew Challenge to earn the choice of pit stalls. He will start 12th but will be required to go to the back of the field when the race starts because he has to change engines.

At least he still gets the coveted first pit box.

“This is probably one of the worst situations you could probably have,” Hamlin said. “We didn’t get to practice anything. We don’t have scuffed tires. A lot of guys will probably race scuffed tires because they’re a little bit faster. And we got to start in the back, so it’s like a double, triple, quadruple whammy of blowing the motor this early.”

The rain hurt other drivers when qualifying was called. Because it features a smaller field, the starting order was based on the qualifying draw and not the points standings.

Instead of starting first, points leader Kevin Harvick will start 13th. He’ll have to make up ground before the final segment, a 10-lap shootout.

Earlier in the day at the speedway, Brian Vickers said he will miss the remainder of the NASCAR season because of blood clots in his lungs and left leg.

“This is what I love to do; this is my life. I fully intend on doing it again,” Vickers said in his first public appearance since his ordeal began May 12.

Vickers was replaced in the No. 83 Toyota last weekend by Casey Mears, who will drive the car today.

■ NASCAR TRUCKS — At Concord, N.C., Las Vegas native Kyle Busch earned his second win of the season in the NASCAR Truck Series, holding off Todd Bodine to win a race that didn’t end until early today because of a lengthy rain delay.

Busch had the lead over Ron Hornaday Jr. on a restart with three laps to go at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Bodine moved into second but couldn’t catch Busch, who collected his 18th win in the series despite not having a primary sponsor this year for the No. 18 Toyota he owns.

Hornaday finished third, followed by James Buescher and Elliott Sadler.

Bodine jumped past Aric Almirola, who finished seventh, to take a two-point lead in the series standings.

It ended a long day for the drivers and their crews that included a curious case of loose lug nuts, a fiery crash and the scene of the pace car getting a flat tire.

The garage opened at 7:30 a.m., and practice was at 9. Qualifying began at 3:30 p.m., but the 200-mile race didn’t begin until 11, three hours late and more than four hours after NASCAR canceled qualifying for today’s Sprint Cup All-Star race because of persistent showers.

There was also concern before and early in the race about at least two trucks — including Busch’s — that mysteriously had loose lug nuts.

“They just found that three of the wheels were loose,” Busch crew chief Eric Phillips said before the green flag. “We’ve just got to keep a better eye on our stuff, I guess.”

Phillips refused to speculate if he thought someone intentionally loosened the wheels. But 20-year-old Austin Dillon claimed his wreck on the 10th lap was caused by the same problem.

“They left the left-rear lugs loose. We don’t know what happened,” he said.

■ NHRA — Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) led first-day qualifying in the O’Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals at Topeka, Kan.

Brown was clocked in 3.785 seconds at 321.96 mph. Hight qualified in 4.095 seconds at 308.21 mph, and Edwards was at 6.638 seconds and 207.56 mph.

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