NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
 
        === Kurt Busch claims Darlington pole with new track record ===
 
 Darlington,  SC  (Sports Network)  -  One  day  after  testing an  IndyCar  at
 Indianapolis  Motor Speedway,  Kurt Busch set a new track qualifying record at
 Darlington Raceway to win the pole for Saturday night's Southern 500.
 
 Busch,  who is in  his first full season as driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row
 Racing  Chevrolet, made a lap around Darlington's 1.366-mile "egg-shaped" oval
 at  181.918  mph, which surpassed  the previous record  of 181.254 mph, set by
 Kasey Kahne in 2011. He was the only driver to top the record.
 
 Busch  claimed his 16th career Sprint Cup Series pole but his first since June
 2011  at Michigan.  It's also  his second  pole at  Darlington. He  became the
 youngest  pole winner  here in September 2001  when he was 23 years old at the
 time.
 
 "Wow,  what an incredible lap," Busch said. "Just the way the team gave me the
 confidence  when we  first unloaded,  they deserve  all the  credit. With  the
 lineup of items that we had to go through today and the confidence they had in
 each of the changes they made, we gained speed.
 
 "It  just gave  me the confidence to  say, 'You know what, I'm going out there
 and  I  have a great  qualifying draw. Let's  just go out  there and lay a lap
 and see if it sticks'."
 
 Busch participated in a rookie orientation for this year's Indianapolis 500 on
 Thursday. He drove an Indy car for Andretti Autosport, running at speeds of up
 to  218 mph. The  2004 Sprint Cup champion is open to the idea of competing in
 the  Indy 500 and the 600-mile NASCAR race at Charlotte, which run on the same
 day,  but said  it would  not  be this  year. Indianapolis  and Charlotte  are
 scheduled for May 26.
 
 "Running around at 218 (mph) is definitely faster than running around at a 181
 average," Busch said.
 
 Jimmie  Johnson,  who won  last year's  Southern 500 and  gave team owner Rick
 Hendrick  his  200th  Cup  victory, qualified  second,  while  Kurt's  younger
 brother,  Kyle Busch,  took the third spot. Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. rounded
 out the top-five.
 
 "It  was a  great lap," Johnson said.  "We had some issues with our qualifying
 run  in practice, but we got those under control. It was a really nice lap, so
 I'm  thankful for that.  It was a little frustrating for us as the second (and
 final) practice session wound down, but we got the car underneath me and got a
 great lap."
 
 Denny  Hamlin qualified sixth, followed by Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, who will
 make his 700th start in the series, Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick.
 
 Hamlin  plans  to run the whole  500-mile distance at Darlington after driving
 his  No. 11 Joe  Gibbs Racing Toyota for just 25 laps in last Sunday's race at
 Talladega.
 
 "I  don't think  there's any doubt we'll  go the whole way," Hamlin said after
 practice.  "I stayed in  the car for about an hour and a half straight with no
 issues during practice. Nothing was uncomfortable, nothing hurt or nothing was
 sore,  so I'm  pretty comfortable I can make  it the three or three and a half
 hours that it's going to take to run the race."
 
 Kenseth  enters this  race without crew chief Jason Ratcliff, who is currently
 suspended  from  competition due  to penalties assessed  by NASCAR to
 Kenseth's team  for an illegal engine used in his race-winning car last month
 at Kansas. On  Wednesday,  the National  Stock  Car  Racing Appeals  Panel
 significantly reduced  JGR's penalties, including Ratcliff's suspension period
 being trimmed from six point races to only one (Darlington).
 
 "I've got a really, really strong race team over there," Kenseth said. "I feel
 good  about everybody and the job they do, but certainly Jason is the guy that
 makes it happen. I told him when it all happened I don't think I can get along
 without  him, so  I'll miss  him, although  I think  they're really  prepared,
 really  ready  for this,  because they  were kind of  thinking it was probably
 coming. I'll be really thankful I have him back next week."
 
 Dale  Earnhardt Jr.  qualified 16th. Defending series champion Brad Keselowski
 was  26th, and Danica Patrick placed 40th. Patrick will use her backup car for
 the race after wrecking her primary car in practice.
 
 Keselowski and his Penske Racing teammate, Joey Logano, are without their crew
 chiefs  at Darlington and Charlotte, as well as the next week's all-star event
 due  to  penalties their teams received  for rules violations one month ago at
 Texas.
 
 Kevin  Buskirk is  filling in for Paul Wolfe as Keselowski's crew chief, while
 Steve Reis is taking over the role for Todd Gordon as Logano's crew chief.
 
 All 43 drivers who qualified made the starting field.
 
 05/10 20:59:31 ET

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