DARLINGTON, S.C. — Kurt Busch ended up on top at Darlington Raceway a week after finishing
upside-down at Talladega.
Five days ago, Busch went airborne near the end of the Aaron’s 499 and crash landed on Ryan Newman.
On Friday, Busch sped around Darlington with a fast lap of 181.918 mph for his third career pole here. It surpassed the two-year-old mark of 181.254 mph held by Kasey Kahne.
“Last week, we ended on our lid and this week, we’re here with a track record,” Busch said.
Defending Southern 500 champion Jimmie Johnson will start alongside Busch, followed by Busch’s younger brother Kyle, Kahne and Martin Truex Jr.
It’s been quite a week for the elder Busch.
There was the frightening crash in the last Sprint Cup race, then an Indy Car test session for Michael Andretti at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday. It’s also the 10-year anniversary of the thrilling, side-by-side duel with Ricky Craven in which Busch lost the race by .002 seconds – the closest finish in Sprint Cup since the series went to electronic timing in 1993.
“It’s been surreal,” Busch said. “It’s been an amazing ride.”
And it might not be finished. Busch’s Furniture Row team were the surprise winners at Darlington two years ago, Regan Smith holding on to bring victory to the single-car program and the only NASCAR operation based west of the Mississippi River in Denver.
“To put it on the pole is a great surprise, but it’s also showing the strength of the team,” Busch said.
Busch joined with Craven earlier in the week to talk about their metal-swapping duel, where both crossed the line in a virtual tie while grinding on each other. Busch said he felt like a winner despite finishing second because he raced hard, clean and gave all he could in chasing victory.
“Maybe I’m on the way to winning by two-thousands of a second,” he said, grinning.
Busch has had five previous top-10 finishes at Darlington, the last coming when he took third in 2010.
He remembered his first pole here, set in 2001 when he became the youngest driver in history to start up front at the Southern 500. Busch was young and brash and did not listen to veteran comments about how difficult the track “Too Tough To Tame” could be.
These days, Busch acknowledged how lucky he was to win that pole 12 years ago, doing about everything wrong on the way to surpassing Jeff Gordon for the top spot. “Just because of my stupidity, I got it,” he said.
The former NASCAR champion is much smarter these days, although he has plenty of talented colleagues right behind. Johnson, the Sprint Cup points leader, has won three times at Darlington and brother Kyle won this event in 2008. Also among the top 10 starters are past champions Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle and seven-time winner Gordon.
Kyle Busch joked with Johnson after qualifying that the five-time series champions’ second place finish meant the Busch brothers’ mother – driver mom’s typically accompany them during pre-race introductions – would have to walk across the stage twice instead with her boys on each arm.
“She’s happy I finished second,” Johnson jabbed with a smile.
Kurt Busch hopes he’s got a smile on his face Saturday night in Victory Lane. He says his Furniture Row team is feeling good, knowing how they won here two years back.
“They’ve just come in here with a lot of confidence,” he said.