LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Kyle Busch will start his 200th career Sprint Cup race at the front of the field.
Winner of two of the last four races, Busch turned a lap at 169.485 mph Friday to win the pole for Sunday's NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway and extend a midseason hot streak that has lifted him to second in the points standings.
Now the driver that fans love to hate hopes to parlay his first pole at the 2.5 mile-long Tricky Triangle into a respectable finish. His best finish at Pocono was fourth in 2005, and he hasn't finished higher than 16th over the last two years.
"It would mean a lot," Busch said when asked about getting a win in his milestone start. "This is a place I've struggled at ... You can come around here and it can be really, really frustrating at this place because it is so long, you can beat your head against the headrest."
Busch won his second pole of the season, claiming victory at Richmond last month after starting up front.
Clint Bowyer was qualified second, while Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was third.
Jeff Burton qualified 13th. Busch and Burton had a run-in during last week's race at Charlotte after Busch's late error sent Burton tumbling to a 25th-place finish.
But they apparently patched things up before coming to Long Pond, and both guys say they'll just be concentrating on racing Sunday.
For Busch, it's been quite a six-race stretch that has seen him rise from 12th in the points standings to second, strengthened by a third-place finish last week to put him 29 behind leader Kevin Harvick.
In recent years, the June race at Pocono meant the culmination of a long weekend of racing with Busch criss-crossing the country to take rides in both the Trucks and Nationwide series.
No frequent flyer miles this time around — Busch's only ride this weekend will be at Pocono in his No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
"I figure this would be a good, laid-back weekend," Busch said.
Bowyer posted his seventh top 10 start of the season and his second in nine races at Pocono. Thirteenth in points, Bowyer hopes a strong Pocono start will help push him up the standings, much like Earnhardt, who is 17th.
Earnhardt will have his best start since winning the pole at Atlanta in March. He hasn't finished higher than 18th over his last four races.
"We've had a terrible month ... we had a good run today," said Earnhardt, who has two second-place finishes in his career at Pocono. "Every little thing helps the confidence."
Points leader Harvick will start 22nd Sunday, while Denny Hamlin will start fifth. Hamlin has won three times at the long track at Pocono, including one of two races last season.
"It's just a track where we've always performed well, I don't know exactly what it is," Hamlin said. if you've got a good car at the finish line, you can just make up a lot of time."