BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Kyle Busch's blazing-fast qualifying lap Friday afternoon provided an answer to who would start from the Coors Light Pole in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. But it also begged the question: Just how fast can they go?
Busch looped the .533-mile track at a track-record speed of 129.535 mph, besting Ryan Newman's 128.709-mph mark which had stood since 2003. The 14.813-second lap was the best of nine qualifying efforts that eclipsed the 15-second mark; only three drivers in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history before Friday had dipped into the 14-second ether.
The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner at Bristol continued his fast weekend Saturday, sweeping both practice sessions and leading the Joe Gibbs Racing trio for a 1-2-3 finish atop the scoring pylon after the morning practice.
The combination of the new Gen-6 car, Bristol's recent resurfacing or the Goodyear tire compound produced record speed ahead of the first short-track race of the year. As on the edge as Busch was, he said the likelihood of going faster in qualifying trim was a possibility.
"You could certainly put a softer tire on here and go lights out, but you'd have trouble making it very much longer after," Busch said, noting that the pace will certainly be more conservative in race trim Sunday. "You get a little bit better tire on it and start pushing lower lap times and then you start getting higher loads and then you'll probably start seeing some fatigue in parts and stuff like that.
"If it was like the old days where guys would go places and try to do speed runs -- you would take the lead out, and you would build a car as light as you could for here just to go make a lap. I bet you could run somewhere in the low 14s probably -- some teens or 20s."
Those sentiments were echoed by Kasey Kahne, who qualified second -- missing the pole position by .062 seconds -- and was second-fastest in Saturday's final practice.
"I think those speeds today were pretty good, especially what Kyle did," Kahne said Friday. "That's fast. You put softer tires on it and you might be able to go faster; I don't know."
As Newman watched his 10-year-old record fade away, he was conscious of the fact that his enduring lap came during the Gen-4 era of NASCAR racers. "A lot of things have changed -- the track has changed and everything else," said Newman, who managed just the 31st-fastest qualifying time for Sunday's race.
For his boss, Tony Stewart, who qualified eighth among the 14-second club, the torrid pace in a confined space was nothing new. As the owner of high-banked Eldora Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in Ohio which will host the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the first time in July, Stewart could only shrug.
"You've never watched winged sprint cars run around Eldora, have you?" Stewart said after his qualifying lap. "I can promise you the track record at Eldora is a 12.7 (approximately 141.7 mph) for the World of Outlaws. Under 15-flat is not a big deal here. It just shows how good these cars are. To come out with a new car and have them drive this nice off the bat is a pretty nice deal."
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