Cool track conditions helped Bobby Labonte set a qualifying record at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he waited out a long rain delay before winning the pole tonight.
Labonte ran a lap at 173.016 mph around the 11/2-mile oval to take the top spot and bump fellow Chevrolet driver Jeff Gordon to the outside of the front row.
Labonte's lap beat Todd Bodine's track record of 172.850 set last year.
"The car was very comfortable, it was two good laps for us," Labonte said. "The car was good right off the truck. We just had a great day and a good little racecar."
Gordon, the third driver to make his run, sat on top of the leader board until Labonte went out 37 cars later. Wearing a winter hat pulled low over his ears, he watched Labonte speed around the fast asphalt from the top of his hauler.
He just shrugged when he saw the No. 24 Chevrolet slip into second on the board.
"That was a great effort for us," Gordon said. "A little disappointing, but heck, I'm just glad to be up front. Bobby put a heck of a lap together."
Ryan Newman was third in a Dodge, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth in a Chevy and Las Vegas native Kurt Busch, the current series points leader, was fifth in a Ford.
The entire garage spent most of the day waiting out the rain after storms pushed everything back over five hours, meaning cars qualified under the lights on a cool track surface that was completely opposite from how it will be in the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 on Sunday.
Busch was disappointed he didn't take the top spot. Coming off consecutive second-place finishes to start the season, Busch wants to break into the win column this season in his backyard.
"I thought we could get the pole today for all the fans, but we came up just a little shy," Busch said. "The nice thing is that gives us a good starting position up front."
Rain canceled all the morning on-track activities.
Qualifying was supposed to begin at 3 p.m. PST, but cars couldn't even get on the track for the hour-long practice session until 4 p.m.
That session was delayed when, with just a few minutes left in practice, Jack Sprague crashed his car and NASCAR needed time to clean the track.
The Busch Series cars were then allowed an hour of practice, and that session was halted by about 15 minutes after a fiery accident between Winston Cup drivers Jamie McMurray and Michael Waltrip.
So, it was almost 7 p.m. local time when qualifying finally began under the lights.
Unhappy to be kept at the track all day, teams pestered NASCAR all morning to just set the field on car owner points. But Winston Cup director John Darby said once it stopped raining, canceling qualifying was not even considered.
"Sure it's easy enough to just set the field and send everyone home, but we need to remember what we're here for and that's racing," Darby said.
Then he pointed to the 20,000 fans sitting in the grandstands, patiently waiting to see cars run around the 11/2-mile track.
"Those are the people we're here for, anyway," Darby said. "And they've been waiting through this rain just like we have."
It's the third straight week poor weather has plagued NASCAR. The season-opening Daytona 500 was shortened by 91 laps after two rain delays, then all but one practice session was wiped out last week in Rockingham, N.C.