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CHARLOTTE â€” Kyle Busch has been a force on the NASCAR circuit for years, but of is 24 Sprint Cup victories, none have come at his favorite track â€” Charlotte Motor Speedway.
He has nine top-10 finishes in 16 starts. Victory lane, though, has proven to be elusive.
He's hoping that's all about to change after capturing the pole for Saturday night's 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, 59.11 seconds, wrestling the pole away from Ryan Newman.
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 â€” and the $1 million prize that comes with a win. In fact, winning the pole has proven to be a bit of a curse.
The last pole winner to win the All-Star race was Davey Allison in 1992.
Just don't tell Busch that.
"I don't have a win here in a cup car, so we're definitely trying to break through that threshold," Busch said. "To do that you have to be able to put a whole night together and I haven't been able to do that here in the past. Last year we ran a smart race and a good race, but we came up a little short. Hopefully the lessons we learn there will allow things to turn out different this time."
It appeared for a while that Newman's time of 1:59.82 might hold up after 17 other drivers were unable to beat him. However, Busch, who was the fastest during practice and the last driver to hit the track for qualifying, pushed Newman to the outside row.
Denny Hamlin will start third, followed by Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick. Jimmie Johnson qualified sixth, while Paul Menard, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Regan Smith round out the top 10.
Defending champion Carl Edwards will start 13th.
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. There will be a mandatory pit stop prior to the final 10 laps.
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.
Busch's strategy is to win the first segment.
"If you win that first segment that sets your pace for the whole night," Busch said. "From that point out all you have to do is stay out of trouble and make it to their final segment where they have the realign and you start in the top four."
Veteran crew chief and former team owner Ray Evernham says the new format forces teams to have a fluid strategy.
"Nobody can sit here and say this is what we're going to do. You've got to perform on the fly," Evernham said.
Evernham said track position is vital.
"I would want to keep my car in the top four positions," he said.
The field currently consists of 20 drivers, but will grow to 23 when the green flag drops Saturday at 9 p.m.
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 â€” 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. He'll 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."View more articles in: