Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch, center, accepts the pole award after qualifying Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch will go off first in Sunday's Food City 500. (Photo by Jonathan McCoy)
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Goodbye, Newman.
After a decade of holding the track record for the fastest lap turned by a NASCAR Sprint Cup car at Bristol Motor Speedway, Ryan Newman was finally knocked off his perch Friday. Kyle Busch shattered Newman’s 14.908-second lap by nearly a tenth of a second and will start up front in Sunday’s Food City 500.
Busch scooted his No. 18 Toyota around the track in 14.813 seconds, good enough to land him his 11th career pole position and his first at BMS. Before Friday, his best qualifying effort in Bristol was ninth.
“Starting up front at BMS can mean good things,” Busch said. “This whole Joe Gibbs Racing team has done a good job. We thought we’d have a shot at the pole, but we’ve thought that many a time before and started 30th.”
The new Gen-6 car proved to be plenty racy on the half-mile concrete oval Friday afternoon. All told, three drivers broke Newman’s track record. Kasey Kahne completed a lap in 14.875 seconds and Denny Hamlin, Busch’s teammate, laid down a 14.879-second lap to earn the third starting spot.
Brian Vickers (14.929) and Paul Menard (14.949) rounded out the top five.
Busch’s qualifying effort came a few hours after contact with David Gilliland in a morning practice session sent the No. 18 machine into a slow spin. Busch’s car looked none the worse for the wear, however, when it came time for qualifying.
Busch laid down his lap early and watched as everyone took their best shot at the time he posted.
“There were a lot of guys that got closer to me than I expected them to,” Busch said of playing the waiting game. “You never really know. I’m never really a good judge of that stuff, so you wait to the end and see if you got it.”
So how much faster is the new Cup car than the old car? Last spring, Greg Biffle won the Food City 500 pole with a lap time of 15.324 seconds. On Friday, 36 cars ran a faster qualifying lap than Biffle managed a year ago.
Busch said he felt like he could stay in the throttle longer and wring a little extra speed out of the Gen-6 car, which has a lower center of gravity and less weight than the previous Cup machine.
“The old car was about being precise,” he said. “This one here, you can make a little more speed by trying a little harder.”
Brad Keselowski will start seventh Sunday, lining up next to Tony Stewart, who qualified eighth. Jeff Gordon qualified 11th, Jimmie Johnson was 13th fastest and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 32nd.
A year after Roush Fenway Racing’s Biffle won the pole, the team had a rough qualifying session Friday. Carl Edwards was 21st quickest, making him the fastest of the RFR fleet. Biffle will start 24th and Ricky Stenhouse will start from the rear of the field after changing a faulty engine prior to qualifying.