NASCAR Busch youngest ever to win pole
He claimed the top spot in only his eighth Nextel Cup series start.
FONTANA, Calif. (AP) -- NASCAR began a new era of qualifying Saturday with new rules and the youngest pole winner in the history of stock car's top series.
Rookie Kyle Busch, 19, claimed his first career pole in only his eighth Nextel Cup Series start, just beating out 21-year-old Hendrick Motorsports teammate Brian Vickers, who grabbed the outside spot on the front row for today's Auto Club 500 at California Speedway.
Busch won the pole in style, with a lap of 188.245 mph, breaking the track record of 187.432 set in April 2002 by Ryan Newman. Vickers, who works out of the same race shop as Busch, was also faster than the old mark at 187.740.
Referring to team owner Rick Hendrick, the younger Busch said, "It's definitely a great opportunity Mr. H. has given us. I'm glad we could do this for him.
"It's definitely an awesome opportunity for the both of us to sit on the front row like that," added Busch, younger brother of reigning Cup champion Kurt Busch. "It's just a great opportunity for us to help both our teams excel. We've got a pole now ... all we need is a win."
Donald Thomas was 20 when he won a pole in NASCAR's top series in November 1952 at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta. Vickers also won his first pole last year at the age of 20.
Busch, the runner-up last year in the Busch Series, got his chance to move up to the top series when two-time champion Terry Labonte decided to run only a limited schedule this year. Busch moved into Labonte's No. 5 Chevrolet.
"People always talk about our ages but I saw a picture in a magazine showing Terry's first race when he was 21," Vickers said. "That just shows it's a big deal, but it's not.
"There's always something to be said for youthful guts but, then again, there's a lot to be said for experience. We'll see what happens [today], which is the true test."
New rules this year guarantee starting spots for the top 35 in car owner points, removing some of the emphasis on preparing for qualifying.
Former California winner Jeremy Mayfield, Joe Nemechek, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Dale Jarrett, Jimmie Johnson, Newman and Mike Bliss filled out the top 10.
Labonte, making his first start of the season, was by far the fastest of the eight non-qualified drivers who made it into the 43-car field. He qualified 11th, while Bill Elliott, another former series champion driving a limited schedule, was 22nd.
Other drivers making the lineup on speed were John Andretti, Robby Gordon, who failed to make the Daytona 500, Mike Wallace, Randy Lajoie, Jason Leffler and Kevin Lepage.
For the first time, NASCAR impounded the qualified cars immediately following Saturday's time trials.
The teams will get the cars back this morning but will only be allowed to make minor adjustments prior to the start of the race.
NASCAR also eliminated the traditional "Happy Hour" Saturday practice. With no more track time after qualifying, the Cup teams had to decide whether to put more emphasis on qualifying setups or on preparing for the race during Friday's practice sessions.
Adding to the difficulty of getting ready for this race is the fact that it will be the first time the cars will race with shorter rear spoilers and softer tires -- both changes intended to promote more passing and put more responsibility in the hands of the drivers.