Busch wins pole for Richmond

In great position to defend his title

Pole winner Kyle Busch talks to his crew after qualifying for the Crown Royal 400 Sprint Cup race in Richmond, Va. Pole winner Kyle Busch talks to his crew after qualifying for the Crown Royal 400 Sprint Cup race in Richmond, Va. (Steve Helber/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / May 1, 2010

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Kyle Busch won the pole for tonight’s NASCAR race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway with a fast lap at 127.077 miles per hour.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver turned the lap as the 19th of 47 cars attempting to qualify, easily beating David Reutimann (126.618) for the top spot.

The pole, just the sixth Busch has earned in 196 starts in NASCAR’s premier series, gave him his choice of pit stalls as he defends his victory in this race a year ago.

“It’s nice to sit on the pole every once in a while,’’ Busch said of his first pole position since March 2009 in Las Vegas.

Busch, who swept both races here a year ago, also won the pole for last night’s Nationwide Series race on the 0.75-mile oval, although Brad Keselowski, who led most of the last 192 laps, rallied from fourth in a two-lap sprint to win his second consecutive Nationwide race. Busch finished fourth.

Seeking his first Sprint Cup Series victory since last August at Bristol, Busch said he feels as if he’s getting closer all the time to ending a 21-race winless streak.

“We’ve had some opportunities where we should have won races,’’ he said. “We’ve also had opportunities where we should have run 15th or 18th and we finished top 10.’’

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who said the air has been cleared in their well-publicized feud of the past two weeks, will start in the second row, followed by Ryan Newman, Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and Jamie McMurray.

Reutimann’s solid run came after a shaky start to the day.

“It is two opposite ends of the spectrum from where we were when we unloaded to where we are now,’’ he said. “We weren’t very good at the beginning of the practice. We made some big adjustments that got us a lot better.’’

Johnson, who took the blame for making a mistake that wrecked Gordon and caused the war of words at the end of last weekend’s race at Talladega, said his team struggled, too.

“Really really pleased,’’ he said. “It seems like a lot of guys are really struggling to get grip, but we couldn’t produce a lap time as fast as some of our teammates were.’’

. . .

Hendrick Motorsports locked crew chiefs Chad Knaus and Alan Gustafson into long-term contract extensions yesterday that keep two of the sport’s top innovators at NASCAR’s top organization.

Meanwhile, crew chief Steve Letarte said he’s in discussion with team owner Rick Hendrick to extend his contract, too. Letarte, in the final year of his deal, said he wants to return as Gordon’s crew chief.

“I’ve spoken with Mr. Hendrick, and he’s told me his intentions, and he wants me to crew chief here and I want to crew chief here,’’ Letarte said before qualifying.

Knaus, who has led Jimmie Johnson to the last four NASCAR championships, said “it’s very well to know that I’m going to be with the No. 48 car.’’ But Gustafson, currently the crew chief for Mark Martin, dodged what his role will be. “I am going to work at Hendrick Motorsports,’’ Gustafson said.