Jamie McMurray claimed pole position and a new track record in qualifying for Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway.
The Earnhardt Ganassi driver backed up his performance from final practice, where he had been fastest, by setting a qualifying lap lap of 27.264 seconds at an average speed of 180.370mph, which beats the track record set by Matt Kenseth a year ago.
McMurray had been one of at least 12 drivers who made contact with the wall earlier during practice, but damage to his car was only cosmetic and his confidence was not dented either, as he improved nearly four tenths of a second from his best practice time to score his second pole of the season. A new tire specification from Goodyear, with softer compounds for both left and right sides, has allowed for high speeds despite high track temperatures.
"I had a real good [Turns] 1 and 2, 3 and 4 I just can't run up against the wall like some of those other guys can," said McMurray. "I pinched the car off a little bit there. Bono [Kevin Manion, crew chief] told me that a lot of guys were going through [Turns] 1 and 2 good but they were just getting killed in [Turns] 3 and 4.
"I was just maybe a little conservative there, but our car was good. I am really excited... It's been a fun day for us so far."
Jeff Gordon, the most successful active driver at Darlington, came within seven thousandths of a second of McMurray's time on his flying lap and will start from the front row of the grid, hoping to translate that into his first win of the season after many near misses.
"The car was perfect," said the Hendrick Motorsports driver, who also lapped under the previous track record. "The car was better than the driver was right there. All day we've been getting a little bit loose there off of [Turn] 2 and the car stuck better than I thought it was going to. I committed to the entry and got it to the middle [of the corner] but I think I went out a little bit on the exit. I knew it was going to be close. I'm very happy with that lap."
Red Bull's Brian Vickers was third as the fastest Toyota, also beating last year's record. Beside him on the second row of the grid will be the Michael Waltrip Racing Camry of David Reutimann, while Hendrick's Mark Martin rounded out the top five after holding on to pole position provisionally.
Stewart-Haas' Ryan Newman was sixth, with JTG Daugherty's Marcos Ambrose seventh in his Toyota after brushing the wall on his final practice lap. Denny Hamlin looked strong in practice and was on a pole run in qualifying but could not quite complete the perfect lap, ending up eighth fastest ahead of Brad Keselowski, who was the fastest Dodge once again.
Kasey Kahne was 10th fastest and best of the Ford drivers. Among them Carl Edwards notably struggled both in practice and qualifying, ending up only 41st fastest.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch, who won last weekend at Richmond, brushed the wall twice during his qualifying effort and will be forced to his back up car for the race. At least six other drivers had to switch cars earlier following incidents in practice, one of those being Dale Earnhardt Jr, who made contact with the barrier in practice both with his primary and back-up cars, ending up 19th on the grid.
Michael McDowell was the fastest of the non-guaranteed drivers in 18th, while Reed Sorenson spun on his second qualifying lap but still made the field and will start 36th.
Joe Nemechek and Casey Mears, who both crashed in qualifying simulation runs in the final practice, failed to make it into Saturday night's 500-mile event, as did Mike Bliss.
Pos Driver Car Speed Time Gap
1. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 180.370mph 27.264s
2. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 180.323mph 27.271s + 0.007s
3. Brian Vickers Toyota 179.987mph 27.322s + 0.058s
4. David Reutimann Toyota 179.252mph 27.434s + 0.170s
5. Mark Martin Chevrolet 179.148mph 27.450s + 0.186s
6. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 179.056mph 27.464s + 0.200s
7. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 179.037mph 27.467s + 0.203s
8. Denny Hamlin Toyota 178.919mph 27.485s + 0.221s
9. Brad Keselowski Dodge 178.835mph 27.498s + 0.234s
10. Kasey Kahne Ford 178.802mph 27.503s + 0.239s
11. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 178.789mph 27.505s + 0.241s
12. AJ Allmendinger Ford 178.569mph 27.539s + 0.275s
13. Joey Logano Toyota 178.549mph 27.542s + 0.278s
14. Kurt Busch Dodge 178.432mph 27.560s + 0.296s
15. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 178.277mph 27.584s + 0.320s
16. Scott Speed Toyota 178.238mph 27.590s + 0.326s
17. Greg Biffle Ford 178.045mph 27.620s + 0.356s
18. Michael McDowell Toyota 177.942mph 27.636s + 0.372s
19. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 177.890mph 27.644s + 0.380s
20. Paul Menard Ford 177.858mph 27.649s + 0.385s
21. David Ragan Ford 177.588mph 27.691s + 0.427s
22. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 177.550mph 27.697s + 0.433s
23. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 177.467mph 27.710s + 0.446s
24. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 177.403mph 27.720s + 0.456s
25. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 177.390mph 27.722s + 0.458s
26. Robby Gordon Toyota 177.326mph 27.732s + 0.468s
27. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 177.313mph 27.734s + 0.470s
28. Dave Blaney Toyota 177.166mph 27.757s + 0.493s
29. Matt Kenseth Ford 176.676mph 27.834s + 0.570s
30. JJ Yeley Dodge 176.562mph 27.852s + 0.588s
31. David Stremme Ford 176.245mph 27.902s + 0.638s
32. Regan Smith Chevrolet 176.094mph 27.926s + 0.662s
33. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 176.075mph 27.929s + 0.665s
34. David Gilliland Ford 176.031mph 27.936s + 0.672s
35. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 175.999mph 27.941s + 0.677s
36. Reed Sorenson Toyota 175.987mph 27.943s + 0.679s
37. Todd Bodine Toyota 175.980mph 27.944s + 0.680s
38. Elliott Sadler Ford 175.760mph 27.979s + 0.715s
39. Kyle Busch Toyota 175.698mph 27.989s + 0.725s
40. Travis Kvapil Ford 175.359mph 28.043s + 0.779s
41. Carl Edwards Ford 174.124mph 28.242s + 0.978s
42. Kevin Conway Ford 172.372mph 28.529s + 1.265s
43. Max Papis Toyota 175.484mph 28.023s + 0.759s
Did not qualify:
Joe Nemechek Toyota 174.935mph 28.111s + 0.847s
Casey Mears Chevrolet 173.920mph 28.275s + 1.011s
Mike Bliss Chevrolet 173.369mph 28.365s + 1.101s