INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kyle Busch pulled off a rare trifecta Saturday.
He crashed Tony Stewart's scripted farewell party and pushed Jeff Gordon's comeback bid to the middle of the pack by accomplishing one of his biggest career goals — claiming his first Brickyard 400 pole.
Busch, the defending race winner, had the fastest lap in the third and final round of qualifying, just ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards.
Busch won with a speed of 184.634 mph. Edwards was second at 184.547 and Stewart, an Indiana favorite, will start third in the final race on his home track after posting a 184.328. Gordon qualified 21st in the 40-car field as the replacement for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"Being able to sit on the pole here at Indy is something you always want to do — or at least it's something I've always wanted to do," Busch said. "Overall, I feel like our baseline has been pretty good here this weekend."
Nobody has been hotter than Busch this weekend.
As searing temperatures inside the cars routinely topped 110 degrees, Busch kept his cool. He had the fastest lap after two practice rounds Friday despite being sent into a spin after a brush with Patrick Carpentier. On Saturday, Busch won his second straight Lilly Diabetes 250 pole, posted the fastest lap in each of the final two qualifying rounds for the Brickyard and then won the first heat of the Xfinity series race.
Now, Busch is in perfect position to become the second Cup driver to win the 400 back-to-back. Four-time race winner Jimmie Johnson did it in 2008 and 2009 though the first win in that sequence came during the tire fiasco that forced caution flags to come out every 10 or 11 laps.
But Stewart thought he missed an opportunity to stop Busch.
"I just wish we could do Lap 3 one more time and could have kept it off the apron in turn four," he said. "Or I think we could be on the pole."
WHO'S IN/WHO'S OUT: Gordon easily made it in despite having only one day in the No. 88 car. His fast lap of 185.616 came in the first round. That was good enough to advance, but he was eliminated after going just 181.851 in Round 2. "We made some nice improvements today, we just were a little tight the second time we went out," Gordon said. The only driver who did not qualify was Josh Wise.
HOT STREAK: After sweeping both Indy races last year, Busch could do it again. JGR also has built up some momentum after Matt Kenseth won last week's race at New Hampshire and Denny Hamlin qualified fourth, giving his team three of the top four spots on the starting grid.
ROUGH ROAD: Hendrick Motorsports' tough month continued Saturday. Four-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson was the team's top qualifier, 13th, despite posting the fastest lap in Round 1. Chase Elliott will start 15th and Kasey Kahne qualified 26th. Team owner Rick Hendrick hasn't had a car finish in the top three in four consecutive races.
APOLOGIES: AJ Allmendinger was disgusted after failing to get a car that was 10th on Friday's speed chart into the second round of qualifying. After finishing 25th, he climbed out of the car and apologized to his primary sponsor and Cup fans for not getting the job done Saturday.
PENSKE PUSH: Team owner Roger Penske, still trying to win his first Brickyard 400, has two cars in the top 15. Brad Keselowski is starting fifth. Teammate Joey Logano qualified 14th.