Kurt Busch grabs first pole of year on hot day at Fontana

Updated: September 1, 2007, 6:40 PM ET
Associated Press

FONTANA, Calif. -- Kurt Busch isn't taking anything for granted.

The hottest driver in NASCAR's Nextel Cup series over the past two months is holding down the final spot in the 12-man Chase for the championship with two races remaining until the start of the stock car playoff.

"We're just thinking big picture now," Busch said Friday after winning the pole for the Sharp Aquos 500 at California Speedway -- his first pole since October 2006 at Martinsville and the 10th of his career. "We're not locked in the Chase yet and we can't afford to ease up on anything or leave anything on the table."

Busch, the first driver to win a title under the Chase format in 2004, goes into Sunday's race with a solid 157-point lead over 13th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a 175-point edge over 14th-place Ryan Newman.

Busch also is just eight points behind Martin Truex Jr. in 11th and nine behind 10th-place Kevin Harvick.

On a sizzling hot day, with air temperatures reaching 104 degrees and the track surface soaring to more than 140 degrees, it was difficult to find the balance between the chassis setup and the tires.

"We just changed it here, changed it there, threw a setup on it that we thought would be close and, lo and behold, we've got the pole," said Busch, who wasn't very happy with his practice times earlier in the day. "It's really interesting how today worked, with how hot it was, trying to get a read on the racetrack."

Busch, the 30th of 47 drivers to make qualifying attempts on the two-mile oval, turned a fast lap of 182.399 mph to barely beat reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson's 182.394. It was even closer than that on time, with Busch's 39.474-second lap just 0.001 quicker than Johnson's 39.475.

"I was proud of the effort but disappointed," said Johnson, from nearby El Cajon. "I really wanted the win the pole here with the Jimmie Johnson Foundation logo on the side [of the car] and this being my home track."

Kasey Kahne was third at 182.020, followed by Newman at 181.415, Kyle Busch at 181.342, Elliott Sadler at 181.333, Earnhardt Jr. at 181.132 and Truex at 180.818. Harvick qualified 12th at 180.542.

Matt Kenseth, who won here in February, will start 38th, while Carl Edwards, who won last Saturday night at Bristol, qualified 19th.

Rookie Juan Pablo Montoya got on track but failed to take the green flag when a plume of blue smoke billowed from his Dodge's engine. He will start last in the 43-car field.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press