Kurt Busch wins pole position for Sunday's Pocono race
LONG POND, Pa. - In 20 trips to Pocono Raceway, Kurt Busch had endured a feast-or-famine relationship with the triangular 21/2-mile speedway.
So when the pilot of the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge wrecked his primary ride during practice Friday, Busch was more than a little skeptical about his team rolling out the backup car for Saturday's qualifying session.
But to his surprise, Busch atoned for his previous day's mistake by posting the top speed of 171.579 m.p.h. to claim the pole position for Sunday's 5-hour Energy 500.
Taking into account other factors, such as NASCAR's recently tweaked qualifying rules and the Poconos' always unpredictable weather, the experience presented a roller-coaster of emotions for the veteran driver.
"It was an amazing swing of events," Busch said, noting that if the morning showers had not stopped in time, qualifying would have been rained out, and with the move to a secondary car he would have had to start at the back of the field on Sunday.
"I have to send out an honest thank you to my guys, especially the ones back at the shop [in Mooresville, N.C.] preparing the cars," Busch said. "To pull a backup out that's a pole-winning car, that's something you really wouldn't hear about back in the day. It's great that we have that quality control in our system."
Crew chief Steve Addington agreed.
"The work [the crew] did to get this car ready was awesome," he said. "To lay down a lap like that is pretty impressive, and that guy that sits behind the steering wheel isn't too damn bad either."
Busch has won here twice - both while starting on the front row - but he has also finished 33d or worse six times, including last August, when an accident that took him out of the Pennsylvania 500.
Paul Menard will join Busch on the front row after posting the second-fastest lap in qualifying at 171.422 m.p.h. in the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Because of a rule change that uses the speeds posted in the weekend's first practice to determine the qualifying order - and the starting lineup, in the case of rain - Menard's run on Friday would have given him the second starting spot if qualifying had been washed out.
"I was hoping for rain, honestly," Menard said. "But to start second in the race after qualifying is a lot more meaningful."
Jeff Gordon, another driver who was prepared to do a rain dance, shocked himself by taking the third berth in the starting lineup (171.350 m.p.h.) in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Denny Hamlin, who has won four times in 10 starts at Pocono, will roll off fourth in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, followed by Regan Smith in the No. 78 Front Row Racing Chevy, and points leader Carl Edwards' No. 99 Roush Racing Ford.
"I'm excited about the race," Edwards said. "It is nice to be disappointed about a sixth-place qualifying position."
Tim George Jr. celebrated his first career victory despite leading just three laps, winning the fog- and rain-shortened Pocono 200 in the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevy.
Among local drivers, Tom Hessert of Cherry Hill placed ninth, while cousins Chase Mattioli (18th) and Nick Igdalsky (19th) represented Long Pond.