On a 'green' racetrack washed by a hard afternoon rain, Matt Kenseth laid down the best qualifying lap in the history of Darlington Raceway.

Touring the 1.366-mile egg-shaped circuit in 27.394 seconds (179.514 mph), Kenseth won the pole for Saturday night's Southern 500, edging Jeff Gordon (178.861 mph) by a tenth of a second in a session that saw three-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Jimmie Johnson wreck in turn two on his first lap.

Ryan Newman (178.757 mph) qualified third, followed by Sam Hornish Jr. (178.744 mph) and rookie Joey Logano (178.549 mph).

In winning his fourth career pole and his first since October 2005 at Kansas Speedway, Kenseth erased the mark of Roush Fenway Racing team-mate Greg Biffle, who qualified at 179.442 mph in May of last year.

"It was a great lap for us," said Kenseth, who won the first two races of the season but since has fallen to twelfth in the Cup standings. "We've had a lot of speed in our car all day, for some reason, which has been real encouraging. We made a lot of changes on our car today, and we've been able to make it work, been able to make it better.

"I didn't really think that we had a serious shot at the pole, but our car was driving really good, and actually, for once when it quit raining, I was glad we had a chance to qualify today."

Kenseth said the track didn't change as much after the rain as he thought it might.

"The track today in general rubbered in (from tyre wear during practice) a lot more than I thought it would," Kenseth said. "It turned really dark, and the more it would rubber in, the more grip it got and the better it felt... I thought after the rain that would all be washed away, and surprisingly, there was still a lot of rubber in the track."

Johnson spun in turn two and backed into the wall, knocking the rear wing off his #48 Chevrolet. His car then slid down the track and nosed into the inside wall. Johnson will start Saturday night's race from the 42nd position in a backup car.

Rookie Scott Speed, who crashed during practice and made his qualifying run in a backup car, failed to make the race. Jeremy Mayfield likewise failed to make the 43-car field.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News