CONCORD, N.C. — Marcus Smith learned a long time ago from his father, NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bruton Smith, not to be afraid to try "new and crazy" things when it comes to auto racing.
That's why the younger Smith, the president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, lobbied hard for NASCAR to use the same rules package for Sunday's Coca- Cola 600 that was experimented with in the Cup Series All-Star Race last weekend at CMS. Even though Kevin Harvick led the final 11 laps and rolled to his third consecutive win this season in the $1 million shootout, the restrictor plates created a tighter field and improved on-track action.
Smith said he received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from fans this week who want to see the same race setup for NASCAR's longest race. But stock car racing's governing body ultimately decided against changing the setup it has been using in regular Cup Series races this season, leaving Smith a little disappointed.
"I am all about the fans," Smith said. "I want what the fans want, and sometimes I want to try things the fans don't even know they want."
With NASCAR's longest race of the season up next — the 600 is a marquee event in part because it is 100 miles longer than anything else on the schedule — Smith wanted to ensure an entertaining event. The race is the finale on the biggest day of motorsports in the world, the nightcap to Formula One racing in Monaco and the Indianapolis 500.
Smith's good intentions were nonetheless impractical. NASCAR could not change the rules for a crown jewel race days before the event. Doing so would be an expensive and difficult endeavor for the teams, and not all would be able to prepare for a different rules package in the same amount of time.
"Logistics were against us in the way the teams work and do so much ahead of time," Smith said. "But I am really happy with the way the sport overall has responded. There's a really good shot we are going to see it (the package) more" in the future.
While drivers were fine experimenting with the package in the nonpoints All-Star Race, they weren't keen on pack racing on a 1.5-mile speedway. The restrictor plates also slowed the cars tremendously, so once a team figured out the setup well enough to get its driver to the front, all he basically had to do was steer and avoid mistakes.
"You've got to be careful about taking that sample size and saying it is going to be the greatest thing ever," Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth said. "When you take that rules package and let them work on it in the garage for a month, things will be very similar to how they were.
"It was a good thing to try, but it's not exactly what I want to see on a weekly basis."
Field set for 600
Kyle Busch hopes his third career pole position at CMS will help end the drought at a track that has frustrated him for years.
Harvick is probably just eager to get back on the track — any track.
Busch earned the pole during qualifying Thursday night for Sunday's Coca-Cola-Cola 600, while points standings leader Harvick will begin in the rear. Busch has never won a Cup Series points race in his previous 28 starts at CMS, although he did win an All-Star Race.
"We have had some really good runs here in the past, but we just haven't been able to close the deal," Busch said, referring to his 11 top-five finishes.
Busch won the 30th pole of his Cup Series career by turning a lap of 191.836 mph. Joey Logano will start alongside Busch on the front row.
But the big surprise was Harvick, who never got on the track after failing inspection three times. Car chief Robert Smith must sit out Sunday's race, and Harvick will have to miss the first 30 minutes of practice Saturday.
Harvick has been dominant this season, winning five Cup Series race. Logano joked that with everyone chasing Harvick "it sure don't hurt" that he has to start at the back of the field — but he doesn't expect that to last.
"Are we taking bets on how long it will take him to get up there?" Logano said. "Where is the new betting thing? Is that what we're doing now?"
Busch and his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates will start in the top 10, with Denny Hamlin qualifying third, Erik Jones fourth and Daniel Suarez 10th.
Martin Truex Jr. failed to make the final round of qualifying and will start 15th. He has two wins in the past four races at the track, including one of the most dominant performances in NASCAR history — he led 392 of 400 laps to win the 2016 Coca-Cola 600. Truex led a race-best 233 laps in last year's 600 only to finish third in a fuel-mileage battle won by Austin Dillon.