DARLINGTON — Kurt Busch showed up at Darlington Raceway in 2001 as a self-professed rube who had heard the stories but didn’t respect the track.
When the veteran drivers got hold of him, they all had the same advice: Hold it open as you go through Turn 2.
For the record, that’s exactly what not to do.
He found out quickly in practice he had been duped, so when he took to the track for qualifying, he had a plan … that he promptly forgot.
“I accidently held it open off (turn) two,” Busch said. “And just because of my stupidity, I got it.”
Busch took the pole with his foolish maneuver, becoming the youngest driver to do so (23 years, 29 days).
Two years later, he set another record when he was on the losing end of the closest finish in NASCAR history, falling .002 of a second behind Ricky Craven at Darlington.
Today, he owns Darlington’s track speed record and will sit on the pole for Saturday’s Bojangles Southern 500.
Busch blistered the track to the tune of 181.918 mph, which blew away Kasey Kahne’s mark of 181.250 in 2011. The record speed was something Busch thought possible the first time he laid eyes on the new Generation 6 cars.
“When I saw the Gen-6 car, I said, ‘When we go to Darlington, the speed will be incredible,’ ” Busch said.
Jimmie Johnson broke up an all-Busch front row, nosing out Kyle Busch, who razzed Johnson for making his mother have to walk the brothers out separately instead of together. The Mother’s Day tradition at Darlington calls for the drivers’ mothers to escort them during introductions.
“It’s your fault,” Kyle Busch said to Johnson.
“It’s my fault, whatever it is,” said Johnson, oblivious to what Busch had been talking about.
“That’s right,” Busch responded. “It’s a lot your fault.”
Kahne will join Kyle Busch on the second rough. Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin comprise the third row. Seven-time Darlington winner Jeff Gordon is on the fourth row with a vindicated Matt Kenseth, who talked of his relief earlier in the day for the positive appeal of the penalties he had incurred at Kansas last month.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 16th in qualifying while Danica Patrick qualified 40th in her backup car after she wrecked her first car during practice.
Though he had finished a respectable third in qualifying, Kyle Busch thought he had left some speed on the track.
“I didn’t feel I ran as hard as I needed two in (turns) one and two … or three and four,” he said. “Being able to end up third while under-driving it a little bit is not bad.”
Johnson said he had battled his No. 48 car a little during practice, but the problems had been smoothed out in time for qualifying. Still, he thought Saturday’s race could be wide open.
“I felt like there are some guys faster than us that are in that second group,” he said, citing Kenseth, Gordon and Greg Biffle specifically.
But for now, all eyes will be on Kurt Busch, including his own. Ten years after his near-miss, he was hopeful he could celebrate the anniversary in style.
“It’s the 10-year anniversary, and it gives me a good shot to stay ahead of the field,” he said. “And win by two-thousandths of a second this time.”