DARLINGTON, S.C. — Sprint Cup points leader Greg Biffle feels he’s running like he used to at Darlington Raceway and that’s bad news for the rest of the Southern 500 field.
Biffle earned his second pole at Darlington and the 11th of his career with a fast lap of 180.257 mph Friday to squeeze past the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne.
“I said it three times, I’m having such a great time driving these race cars,” Biffle said. “This is what a racecar driver looks forward to in showing up every weekend and having a fast car to drive. They’re sure making my life easy.”
Ryan Newman starts fourth followed by Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin, a winner at Phoenix and Kansas this year. Regan Smith, the 2011 Darlington winner, was ninth with Jeff Burton qualifying 10th.
Danica Patrick will start 38th for her second-ever Sprint Cup event. She was guaranteed a spot in tonight’s race because of the No. 10 car’s points standing.
For a long time Friday, it looked like an all-Hendrick front row after Kahne had a hot lap of 179.556 mph and teammate Johnson matched him a short time later. That’s when Biffle took to the track for his pole-winning performance.
“It was a pretty uneventful lap,” Biffle said. “The car’s got a ton of grip. It stuck to the race track really, really well.”
And it’s got Biffle thinking he’s got the stuff to continue his strong start: “I feel that special season already. I certainly think that we’re going to be tough in competition all year,” he said.
Biffle was a Darlington master since first running here in 2003. He won in 2005 and 2006 after the track’s schedule was cut to one race and the date moved to Mother’s Day weekend. Biffle’s finished in the top 15 or better in eight of his 11 Sprint Cup races here.
Still, Biffle was uneasy coming to Darlington this week. For all his success, Biffle’s car wasn’t what he felt it should be the past four races. He was 43rd in 2008, then 22nd here two years later.
“The car just wasn’t in the race track,” he said. “I knew what I needed to do different.”
Johnson will start next to Biffle based on owner’s points. Johnson and Kahne give the Hendrick team a strong chance to win that elusive 200th career Sprint Cup event. It has been 16 races since Johnson’s victory at Kansas last October brought Hendrick Motorsports its 199th win.
“I left a little speed out there and Greg certainly found it,” Johnson said. “It would’ve been nice to have a Hendrick front row. But it was a very productive day.”
Patrick was also hopeful after her first time around “The Lady in Black.” She scraped the wall several times during practice laps in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup cars. Patrick hopes to improve on her 38th-place finish at Daytona, although she says just lasting to the end of Saturday night’s race would be an accomplishment to build on.
She might want to follow Biffle’s lead. He said he was excited about his chances here before his qualifying run. He’s even more confident now.
“When you drive a car and you get out and your hands are shaking, you’re out of breath and you put it on the front row, that says something,” Biffle said. “When you get out of the car relaxed like I did and the car did all the work, that tells you the car’s going to be good tomorrow night.”