INDIANAPOLIS — Jeff Burton says weird things happen at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Saturday was no different.
A surprise pole winner, favorites qualifying poorly and tire pressure problems headlined a busy Saturday.
Burton won the pole — the fifth of his career in 424 races — and became the first driver in series history to win the pole for the sport’s two biggest races (the Daytona 500 and Indy) in the same season. He topped the field with a lap of 182.778 mph. He’s joined on the front row by Clint Bowyer, a teammate at Richard Childress Racing.
Others did not have as good a day.
Kurt Busch qualified third but will start at the rear of the 43-car field in a backup car after crashing. Michael Waltrip will miss his first NASCAR Nextel Cup race since 1998 after failing to qualify. His consecutive starts streak ends at 270 races.
Four-time race winner Jeff Gordon will start 16th with defending race winner Tony Stewart 32nd and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 31st.
Burton has helped lead a resurgence at RCR. He and teammate Kevin Harvick are in the top 10 in points. Harvick also qualified 10th, putting all three teams in the top 10.
If teams didn’t have enough to worry about, Burton was the fastest in Saturday’s final practice session.
“The main thing I’m concerned about is making sure our car drives well,” Burton said. “We are fast, but I don’t think we’re right where we need to be yet. We’re close.”
Busch blew a left front tire and crashed in turn 1. Stu Grant, Goodyear’s general manager of global race tires, said Busch’s tire was underinflated. Grant said it could not be determined if that was from low air pressure or a puncture .
Among those who failed to qualify were Paul Menard, driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc., and 19-year-old Stephen Leicht, driving for Robert Yates Racing.
STAYING PUT: Hendrick Motorsports announced Saturday that it has extended crew chief Chad Knaus’ contract through 2010. Knaus’ contract was set to expire after this season. The team extended its contract with driver Jimmie Johnson and sponsor Lowe’s through 2010 earlier this season.
THE MAGIC WIN: NASCAR conspiracy theorists unite. Consider this possibility for today — A Jeff Gordon victory would tie him with Dale Earnhardt for most career victories at 76. A Gordon victory also would give him five wins at Indianapolis, tying him with Formula One driver Michael Schumacher for most wins at this track. NASCAR’s recent past is littered with special heart-warming victories, from Kevin Harvick’s victory with Earnhardt’s team three races after his death, to Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning at the first Daytona race since his father’s death, to Gordon winning the inaugural race at this track.
PIT STOPS: Jeff Burton was nearly 1 mph faster than the next car in the final practice session with a lap of 175.200 mph. Matt Kenseth was next at 174.341 mph. He was followed by Carl Edwards (174.250 mph), Clint Bowyer (173.940) and Ken Schrader (173.859). … Dale Jarrett’s 35th-place starting spot is his worst for this race. … Greg Biffle’s seventh-starting spot is his best for this race.
Contact Dustin Long at 373-7062 or email@example.com