DARLINGTON, S.C. - Winston Cup rookie Kurt Busch won his first career pole Friday, holding off Darlington dominator Jeff Gordon in qualifying for Sunday's Southern 500.
Busch finished his lap at 168.048 mph, edging out Gordon's run of 167.916 mph at Darlington Raceway.
"This is something not to be expected at Darlington, so I'm caught a little by surprise as is everybody else," said Busch, whose best qualifying run was ninth in February in Rockingham, N.C.
"I was probably the most surprised person on the track," owner Jack Roush said.
Busch became the first rookie to win a Darlington pole since the late Davey Allison in 1987.
Busch and Roush expected the team's success to come sooner this season after a fourth at Texas Motor Speedway and a third at Talladega Superspeedway. However, Busch has had just two top 10s in the 16 races since April.
"I had settled in for a long siege," Roush said.
The day - as many at Darlington do - looked set up for Gordon, who's won four poles here and was last to take a qualifying run. But his fast run broke off in the final turn, he said. The Winston Cup points leader will go for his fifth Southern 500 victory from the inside pole.
"We're happy with that," Gordon said. "It obviously continues a run of good momentum for us."
Busch waited out Gordon's run. "That threw in that drama," Busch said. "To be in the front row would have been something that I wouldn't have expected. We did have a car that we knew could be on the pole and run up front."
Busch's rookie team has gotten lost among Kevin Harvick's Winston Cup entrance in driving the late Dale Earnhardt's car.
Harvick has won the Cracker Barrel 500 in Atlanta and the Tropicana 400 in Chicago this season. He's ninth in Winston Cup points, a remarkable achievement for a first-year driver, and picked up the rabid support of the Intimidator's fans, who have adopted him as their new idol.
BUSCH QUALIFYING: Ryan Newman won a Busch pole at for the second time this year, starting up front for today's South Carolina 200.
Newman's lap of 169.246 mph was more than 3 mph faster than runner-up Mike Skinner's mark of 166.163 mph. Newman came up short of his Busch qualifying record of 170.301 mph he set at this track on March 16 for the SunCom 200.
"I thought we ran good," Skinner said. "Then Ryan came out here and embarrassed us."
Newman said he used the car, Thumper, with which he won the NapaOnline.com 250 at Michigan International Speedway two weeks ago.
"I guess it's not fair to my team to play favorites," Newman said. "But she's definitely showing she'll give us everything she can."
Newman, who drives for Roger Penske, won his fourth career Busch pole.