NASCAR: Busch wins pole
By Mike Cranston
CONCORD ó Kyle Busch races beyond his years. He’s more superstitious than a lot of 23-year-olds, too.
The hottest driver in the Sprint Cup declined a $50 bill from outgoing Lowe’s Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler on Thursday, then continued his qualifying dominance at the track to earn the pole for the Coca-Cola 600.
Busch laughed off the offer from Wheeler, who was patrolling pit road a day after announcing he’ll retire after 33 years at the track. Busch’s then turned in a lap of 185.433 mph in his No. 18 Toyota to edge out last week’s All-Star race winner Kasey Kahne (185.300), who will join him on the front row Sunday for NASCAR’s longest race.
“He took a fifty out of his pocket and then he was signing it,” Busch said of Wheeler. “I said, ‘I don’t want that.’ He gave it to one my crew guys and I said, ‘Don’t take that.’ So I put it back in his pocket.”
Brian Vickers qualified third, giving Toyota two of the top three spots. Greg Biffle will start fourth, followed by David Ragan and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Busch started from the pole in last week’s All-Star race and dominated early before bowing out with engine trouble. Busch also started from the pole for last week’s Craftsman Truck Series race. He led the most laps, but was involved in a wreck and finished 13th.
Busch will be the favorite to win his fourth Sprint Cup race of the season on Sunday. He has seven top-five finishes in 11 races and holds a 79-point lead over Jeff Burton in the season standings.
“I hope it doesn’t wear off. I hope I’m not just here for this year and then I’m done and all washed up at 24 years old,” Busch said. “That would be pretty bad, wouldn’t it? We just got to keep going, keep working hard.”
Busch told reporters two hours before qualifying that he didn’t have a car capable of the pole. But after his crew worked on it, Busch went out 22nd out of 48 cars, running a clean lap to overtake Kahne.
“We had a good lap for what we had in practice,” Kahne said. “It felt good. I knew Kyle and Brian would come close. We’re just looking forward to Sunday’s race. We’ll have a lot of time Saturday to work on the car, but I think we’ll have something Sunday.”
AJ Allmendinger, the Sprint Showdown winner last week who had to qualify on speed, made the field and will start 27th. Sam Hornish Jr., Sterling Marlin and Kyle Petty also made the field.
Jeff Green, Stanton Barrett, Jon Wood, Joe Nemechek and Tony Raines failed to qualify for the 43-car race.
Ryan Newman, who won the pole in both points races at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last year, got high on the track on his first qualifying lap and failed to make up for it in the second lap. Newman, who has seven career poles here, will start 38th.
Maybe it had to do with the old tale that keeps people away from $50 bills.
“I learned something from being a Vegas boy,” said Busch, who grew up in the gambling capital, where players are known to run away from casino tables when someone throws down a $50.
Earnhardt took a signed $50 bill from Wheeler, then joked that leaving it in his pocket for the qualifying run was the reason he wasn’t faster.
But old wives’ tale or not, Busch has been the most dominant driver this season. Now he’ll try to overcome his famous impatience Sunday.
“In the All-Star race we had a great shot to lead all the laps,” Busch said. “I know that won’t happen in the 600. But we’ve got a good starting spot where we can stay up front and bide our time.”
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