Blaney To Start 14Th At Darlington

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DARLINGTON, S.C. – Rookies aren’t supposed to be this good. Not at Darlington Raceway, this difficult 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval.

But for one lap Friday, a rookie was good, very good. Kurt Busch, driving one of Jack Roush’s Fords, turned a lap of 168.048 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s Southern 500.

“This is unbelievable,” said Busch, whose best career start was ninth, accomplished twice earlier this year. “Hopefully we won’t drop like lead in a swimming pool when the race starts.

“We got through Turn 2 the best. I went down the backstretch and kept the speed up. The tires are bumped off by the time you get to Turn 3, so everybody slowed down there.

“We learned a lot of things last week at Bristol in qualifying. We tested at Kansas this week, and we worked on qualifying. We applied things at both places.”

Busch edged Winston Cup points leader Jeff Gordon, who was the last driver to qualify. Gordon went out at 167.916 and will start second Sunday.

Both of Gordon’s closest closest challengers for the Winston Cup title struggled. Ricky Rudd, who came in 308 points behind Gordon, qualified 26th at165.917. Rudd’s teammate, Dale Jarrett, was 27th at 165.905.

The Penske Racing duo of Jeremy Mayfield and Rusty Wallace were third and fourth, respectively, while Kevin Harvick rounded out the Top 5. Sixth through 10th were John Andretti, Ricky Craven, Ken Schrader, Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte.

Dave Blaney and the Amoco Dodge team will start 14th.

Mayfield has finished in the Top 5 in five of the last seven races at the 1.366-mile track, including third in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 in March. He was leading the Southern 500 last year when he tangled with a lapped car.

Mayfield has led 246 laps in the last seven races, including 104 of the first 118 laps in the Southern 500 a year ago, but has yet to go to Darlington’s victory lane. Mayfield brought the same car back to this year’s Southern 500.

“It’s the same setup and the same car – everything,” Mayfield said. “It’s really my favorite car. It’s about the best car we’ve got that I really like. We just come here and put it together and make it work. Believe it or not, it’s the oldest car we’ve got.”

And it went pretty fast Friday.

“I’m real happy. I love this place,” Mayfield said. “Darlington’s been really good to me. I’m trying to catch my breath. That was a wild lap.

“A lot of people don’t even like coming here, but for some reason I’ve just adapted well to it, and I like it. We always seem to have a pretty good setup here. We seem to run pretty good, and we’ve been fast since coming here.”

Mayfield and Wallace were going for a Darlington sweep for Penske Racing. Ryan Newman won the pole for the Busch Series race earlier Friday in a Penske Ford.

“I’m pretty pleased with it,” Wallace said. “We were really lose when we got here and made a lot of adjustments…we thought about what we did. In my qualifying attempt (in practice), I messed up. We got in a little lower (in the turns) and got on (the gas) it a little earlier.”

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2001

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