Biffle wins pole at newly paved Darlington track

DARLINGTON, S.C. - On a fast new surface, 41 of 44 drivers broke the qualifying record at Darlington Raceway.

But it was Greg Biffle who set the pace, turning a blistering lap of 179.442 mph Friday night to win the pole at Darlington. He shattered the previous record of 173.797 mph set by Ward Burton in 1996.

""Everybody has talked about how the track is really fast, but it's the same old Darlington,' Biffle said. ""It will bite you as soon as you let your guard down, especially with the speeds now. You can get in trouble in a hurry, and I've been close to getting that (Darlington) stripe.'

Biffle's lap in a Ford beat Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, who qualified second and third for Saturday night's race in their Chevrolets. Earnhardt ran a lap at 179.357, while Johnson clocked in at 179.206.

It marked a comeback for Johnson, the two-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion, who crashed two cars during Friday's practice sessions. He wrecked his primary on the third lap of the first practice, then had to replace the splitter on his backup when he wrecked in the second practice.

""I'm just glad I didn't hit anything on that last run,' Johnson joked. ""I'm very proud of my guys. I worked them real hard on two cars, and almost needed a third.'

Track officials repaved the surface over the winter, spending $7 million to smooth out the surface while maintaining the integrity of the quirky, egg-shaped, 1.366-mile superspeedway. Although the new asphalt smoothed out the trademark bumps that drove drivers nuts and gave all of them their fair share of ""Darlington Stripes,' it created tremendous grip that's made the cars reach eye-popping speeds.

Biffle, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman all hit speeds faster than 200 mph along the backstretch during a March tire test, forcing Goodyear to bring a very hard compound that it believes will withstand the speeds.

It made for a tricky mix of a smooth track, hard tire and quick speeds that not everybody could handle. Dozens of drivers banged the wall during Friday's practice sessions, and several more continued it into qualifying.

Kasey Kahne, a three-time Darlington pole winner, wrecked his Dodge on his qualifying lap and joined the long list of drivers scratching their heads in the garage at the end of the day.

""I just feel like maybe I overdrove it,' he said. ""It hit hard enough, I don't know if we'll be able to race this car.'

Tony Stewart tied his career-best qualifying effort at Darlington by claiming the fourth starting position. Kurt Busch qualified fifth and was followed by younger brother Kyle Busch.