DARLINGTON, S.C.—High speeds seem to suit Kurt Busch.
A day after driving an IndyCar at 218 mph during rookie orientation at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch put his No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet SS on the pole for Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway—and he did so in track-record fashion.
Busch toured the Lady in Black in 27.032 seconds (181.918 mph) in Friday’s time trials to win the 16th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole of his career, his second at Darlington and his first since 2011 at Michigan. Busch broke the former track record of 181.250 mph (27.131 mph) set by Kasey Kahne in 2011.
Series leader Jimmie Johnson will line up on the outside of the front row after a lap at 180.974 mph (27.173 mph). Kurt’s brother Kyle Busch qualified third at 180.920 mph. Kahne qualified fourth Friday at 180.741 mph, followed by Martin Truex Jr. at 180.284 mph.
“(It was) real fast in (Turns) 1 and 2,” Busch said of the money lap. “Maybe I left a little on the table getting into 3. It didn’t feel that fast, and when it doesn’t, that means the car was stuck really well.
“That’s just a tribute to these Furniture Row guys. The confidence they had coming here this weekend stems from a few years ago when they won here with Regan Smith. All of the changes we made in practice—all of them made sense… The car’s been feeling pretty good.”
Kahne was the 10th driver to make a qualifying run, and he held the top spot until Johnson, 26th out, knocked him off the provisional pole. Johnson stayed there until Busch smashed Kahne’s former track record by .099 seconds.
Busch won the first pole of his career at Darlington in 2001—almost by accident, as he tells it today. Busch also was part of the historic finish in 2003 where he raced side by side with Ricky Craven and was second to the stripe by .002 seconds.
“When I first came here as a rookie, you hear all of the Darlington urban legend about how tough this place is, how it was going to chew you up and spit you out, how you have to respect it,” Busch said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever, I’ve got this.’
“There were even jokes about how you were supposed to hold it wide open off Turn 2. That’s like a rookie hazing—if you try that, you’re supposed to wreck. I accidentally held it open off 2 and got the pole. I got lucky that day. I beat Jeff Gordon for the pole and, honestly, I never thought it was a pole-sitting lap. It was because of my stupidity that I got it.
“It was very sweet to get that first pole… Today is great, the 10-year anniversary with Ricky Craven and the battle that we had. This gives me a great shot to stay ahead of the field and win by two thousandths of a second this time.”
Note: Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr., second and third in the standings, qualified 17th and 16th, respectively. … Busch was 23 years, 29 days old when he won the Darlington pole in 2001, making him the youngest ever. … Johnson will start from a top-10 position for the seventh time in 11 races this season.