DARLINGTON, S.C. — After a stellar qualifying run, Jimmie Johnson said there was some speed left in Darlington Raceway — and Greg Biffle found it.
Biffle toured the 1.366-mile Lady in Black in 27.281 seconds (180.2557 mph) to win the pole for Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500, beating second-place starter Johnson and third-place Kasey Kahne by .105 seconds.
Biffle, who posted back-to-back wins at Darlington in 2005 and 2006, snagged his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his second at the Lady in Black and the 11th of his career.
“This is what a racecar driver looks forward to, showing up every weekend and having a really fast car to drive,” said Biffle, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader. “They’re making me look good so far.
“It was a pretty uneventful lap. The car just had a ton of grip — it stuck to the racetrack really, really well. I felt like I was a little bit light down in Turns 1 and 2 — I should have been a little bit quicker down there — but I got a lot out of it in 3 and 4, so it was a great lap.”
Johnson and Kahne ran identical speeds (179.566 mph), with Johnson winning the front-row starting spot from his Hendrick Motorsports teammate on an owner points tiebreaker. Ryan Newman (179.461 mph) qualified fourth, followed by Kyle Busch (179.448 mph).
Johnson said his car was comfortable — perhaps too much so in Turns 3 and 4 of the qualifying lap.
“I knew I left a little time on the table down there, and Greg went out and found it,” Johnson said.
Danica Patrick qualified 38th at 175.497 mph for her Cup debut at Darlington, picking up approximately .75 seconds from her fastest lap in practice. The Southern 500 will be Patrick’s second Cup race and her first in a Cup car with an open motor.
But it’s all part of the trial-by-fire approach to a 10-race schedule she developed with team owner Tony Stewart.
“We definitely struggled in the Cup car (in practice),” Patrick said. “But this was the plan, to do it difficult, and this is one of the places that would really challenge me . . .
“I felt better in qualifying. I ran three quarters of a second quicker than I did in practice. For me, usually if I stink during practice, I don’t usually find a lot in qualifying.”
Note: Scott Riggs, Michael McDowell, Stephen Leicht and Mike Bliss failed to qualify for the 43-car field.