Kyle Busch takes All-Star race pole
CONCORD, N.C. -- Kyle Busch captured the pole for the Sprint All-Star race for the second straight year.
Busch completed the unique three-lap qualifying that included a mandatory four-tire pit stop in 1 minute, 19.11 seconds. He was the last qualifier on the track and knocked Ryan Newman to the outside of the front row.
While winning the pole puts Busch and his No. 18 Toyota in great position to win his first All-Star race, it certainly doesn't guarantee a first-place finish and the accompanying $1 million prize.
In fact, winning the pole has proved to be a bit of a curse. The last pole winner to win the All-Star race was Davey Allison in 1992.
The All-Star race format has changed significantly this year.
The 90-lap race will be split into four 20-lap segments preceding a 10-lap shootout for the $1 million prize. There will be a mandatory pit stop prior to the shootout.
The new format places a premium on winning one of the four segments and showcases the importance of the pit crew. The winner of each segment will move to the front of the field right before the cars head down pit road for their mandatory stop. Drivers will then line up in the order they leave pit road to start the final segment.
"I think format forces you to use some strategy," said veteran crew chief and former team owner Ray Evernham. "Nobody can sit here and say this is what we're going to do. You've got to perform on the fly."
Evernham said track position is vital.
"I would want to keep my car in the top four positions," he said.
The field consists of 20 drivers, but will grow to 23 when the green flag drops.
Included are race winners from last season through the May 12 race at Darlington and previous All-Star race winners from the past 10 years. Three more will be added Saturday before the race -- the top two finishers in the 40-lap Sprint Showdown as well as the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote, which is almost guaranteed to be Dale Earnhardt Jr. should he not qualify in the preliminary race.
A.J. Allmendinger captured the pole for the Sprint Showdown after running what he said was "the perfect lap" in qualifying Friday night and will start on the front row alongside Martin Truex Jr.
Despite not winning a Sprint Cup race since 2008, Earnhardt remains the most popular driver in the NASCAR series and used the fan vote to advance to All-Star race last season.
He knows that any win, even a non-points All-Star race, would provide a huge boost.
"I think it would get people excited; it would get our team excited," Earnhardt said. "It would really help build confidence. I remember when we won here in 2000 how much confidence it gave me. Winning this kind of event would do wonders for our team."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press