Busch takes pole for first time in more than a year

Sunday, February 26, 2006

FONTANA, Calif. -- Kurt Busch won his first pole for his new team and his first in more than a year, taking the top spot Friday evening for the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway.

His lap of 187.086 mph on the 2-mile oval was nearly a full mile an hour faster than runner-up Greg Biffle's 186.186 in qualifying for today's race.

"I'm happy that we got a pole," said Busch, who switched from Roush Racing and the No. 97 Ford to Penske Racing South and the No. 2 Dodge, replacing retired NASCAR star Rusty Wallace. "That puts us in next year's Bud Shootout, which we missed this year."

This was the fourth pole of Busch's career, but his first since the season finale at Homestead in 2004.

"I don't know what to say. Usually, I'm 15th or so," Busch said.

"We're a team that's new and we're learning," he added. "We've got humble expectations. We know the cars usually qualify well. That's the Penske [modus operandi]. We'll see what happens [in the race]."

Ryan Newman, his Penske teammate and the sport's best qualifier, was far off the pace in 11th.

Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson was third at 185.735.

"I'm very proud of what the team has done today," Johnson said. "We've been through a lot."

Johnson is working again this weekend without crew chief Chad Knaus, banned by NASCAR for the first four races of the season after inspectors found the team had made unapproved alterations to the rear window of the No. 48 Chevrolet in Daytona 500 qualifying.

Joe Gibbs Racing rookies J.J. Yeley and Denny Hamlin were fourth and fifth, with Daytona pole-winner Jeff Burton, top 2005 rookie Kyle Busch -- Kurt's younger brother -- Joe Nemechek, three-time California winner and Mark Martin rounding out the top 10.

Tony Stewart, the two-time and defending Cup champion and the third Gibbs driver, was 12th.

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