RICHMOND, Va. -- Ward Burton set a track qualifying record of 127.389 mph Friday night to take the pole position for the Pontiac Excitement 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race.
Burton, whose South Boston home is about 60 miles from Richmond International Raceway, turned his lap midway through the session and sweated it out as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace and Tony Stewart challenged. Earnhardt came the closest with a lap at 127.179.
"It's always like that," Burton said. "I really didn't expect to get the pole."
The pole is the seventh of Burton's career and first at Richmond.
The run, one of 10 to eclipse Gordon's track qualifying mark of 126.499, came in the first Dodge Burton's Bill Davis-owned team has built from the bottom up specifically to run on tracks shorter than a mile.
Making the most of it close to home was sweet, he said.
"It feels great, but I've got some work to go do here in about 15 minutes," he said, speaking of a 45-minute Happy Hour practice.
"Tomorrow night is obviously more important than today."
After Earnhardt's Chevrolet, the second row has defending race champion Tony Stewart in a Pontiac after a lap at 127.059, and Gordon's Chevrolet at 126.975.
Stewart, who has won twice here in six races, said his run kept alive optimism that he'll get moving toward the top of the standings Saturday night. He arrived at Richmond 10th after consecutive 29th-place finishes.
"Normally if we qualify up front here, we stay up front here," he said. "I'm somewhat optimistic that we're going to have a good weekend."
Steve Park qualified fifth, also in a Chevrolet, with Kyle Petty's Dodge on the outside of Row 3. Matt Kenseth will start seventh in a Ford.
For Petty, it's his best starting spot since Indianapolis in 2000.
Among the Winston Cup points leaders, Sterling Marlin will start 35th, second-place Kurt Busch will start 37th after crashing in practice and using a backup car, and Wallace, fourth in points, will start ninth.
"I hate coming to the short tracks," Busch said. "We've already started to struggle, but it's just me making stupid mistakes."
Ricky Rudd, another Virginia driver who won here last September, will make his record-tying 655th consecutive start from the No. 12 spot.
"I wish we'd had one more lap," Rudd said, adding that the grip on the newly sealed track seemed to get worse in the cooler afternoon air.
"The track was awesome fast in practice," he said. In qualifying, "I couldn't get after the throttle as hard as I wanted to. I heard a lot of guys saying the same thing. The track's lost a little bit of something."
Kevin Grubb trying to make his Winston Cup debut in a car owned by Rick Goodwin, managed one qualifying lap before crashing. The Mechanicsville driver's lap was the 37th among 44 cars, but his was the only team without a provisional to use and wound up as the one going home.