Kyle Busch isn't one of the NASCAR drivers you would immediately think of as a road course specialist (128mph on public roads notwithstanding) but he broke the track record at the historic Watkins Glen International former F1 venue with a time of 69.767s (126.421mph) on the 2.45 mile, 11-turn road course. It's Busch's eighth pole position in the Cup series, but surprisingly his first of 2011.
"It's cool to come out here and get a pole," said Busch said. "Joey got it in Sonoma, we got it here, so [Joe Gibbs Racing] swept the poles this year on the road courses. Hopefully we can get a win here Sunday."
While Joey Logano claimed a respectable 13th place at the Glen, JGR's other driver Denny Hamlin was less fortunate and hit the wall at turn 5, putting him at the back of the grid.
Despite feeling that he has "screwed up a little bit here, a little bit there" in his qualifying lap, Kyle's time was 0.210s ahead of AJ Allmendinger who will start alongside him on the front row for Sunday afternoon's 'Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen' Cup race.
"I've always liked Watkins Glen a little bit more than Sonoma; I feel like I've struggled at Sonoma," admitted Allmendinger. "Watkins Glen is a race track that you've really got to be aggressive on and you can really kind of just hang the car out, and I feel I've always been pretty good here ... If we can build some momentum and get a good finish tomorrow, we're right there in points."
Behind them in third place is Allmendinger's team mate, road specialist Marcos Ambrose, who has one of the best records of any driver at the Glen with one second place and two third place finishes in Cup races and three wins in four starts in Nationwide. It represents the Tasmanian's best chance of getting through to the Chase if he can score his first-ever Cup series win here and make a run for one of the wildcard berths.
Ambrose would have preferred to have started even further forward: “I felt a little unfortunate really," he said. "We had a probably had the hardest part of the practice and I underdrove it just a little bit, but we're proud of our efforts. It would have been great to be on the front row with AJ."
Jimmie Johnson will start alongside Ambrose on the second row, with Juan Montoya and Ryan Newman right behind them in fifth and sixth. Former Glen winner Tony Stewart starts from seventh alongside Carl Edwards, while Kevin Harvick is back in 23rd and former F1 driver Scott Speed is starting from 29th.
After clinching the Nationwide Series race pole shortly before, Kurt Busch will be disappointed to only be starting from 27th on the grid. Earlier, during Saturday morning media appearances, Kurt had to tackle the withering verbal onslaught
directed at him from Jimmie Johnson on Friday. He decided to take the high ground in the conflict.
"It's great. It means that I'm in his head and if I'm in his head, he's got to worry about us running through this Chase," he said.
"It's one of those emotions that boiled over and I felt like the way that we raced each other on the track was what champions need to do ... I talked to my dad about things and my dad was like, 'Well, that's rubbing. That's racing, son. That's how it works.' He just gave me that confidence to know and he's the one that taught me a lot about racing."
Busch stuck to the line he'd taken immediately after the row at Pocono - that it had started with Johnson swerving at him and that it was a move not worthy of a driver of Johnson's stature. "For me, I think the line is when he swerved at us," said Busch. "I think he said yesterday he was trying to break the draft. That's not a move of a five-time champion."
But he admitted that if the incident had been discussed between them in a less highly-charged place out of the public eye, things might have been different. "If we would have run into each other in the motor coach lot afterwards, the adrenaline would have calmed down a bit and there would have been a better discussion," suggested Busch. "He was really amped up. He felt that I did him wrong.
"The response that we got from different people this week and the race fans, they said it was exciting and that's what they wanted to see. That's the intensity and passion that our sport is built off of," continued Busch, adding: "This is a bunch of guys running stock cars in the southeast. This isn't open-wheel racing where we're supposed to pass each other clean and be leading by 10 seconds."
Full qualifying times and positions