FONTANA, Calif. -- Kurt Busch isn't taking anything for
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
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
"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."
Matt Kenseth, who won here in February, will start 38th, while
Carl Edwards, who won last Saturday night at Bristol, qualified
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.