CONCORD, N.C. -- With his aggressive driving style and cocky manner, Kyle Busch is used to being booed on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.
But perhaps "Rowdy Busch," as he's called, is starting to earn grudging respect from more of the NASCAR Nation -- especially given his stellar season so far.
When the 23-year-old Las Vegas native Thursday put his Toyota Camry on the pole for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, a cheer erupted from the grandstands at Lowe's Motor Speedway here.
Busch turned a lap of 185.4 mph on the 1.5-mile, high-banked oval to earn the first starting spot for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kasey Kahne, who won last week's All-Star Challenge here after being voted into the race by fans, qualified second in a Dodge at 185.3 mph for Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
Busch said his car wasn't as stout in practice as he wanted, but "the guys on the team did an awesome job to work on it. Whatever it was, it worked. We're pretty excited to be in the place we're in."
Busch has been the hottest Cup driver lately, winning three of the series' 11 points races this season, including the most recent event at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway two weeks ago.
He also drew the wrath of many fans early this month when he collided with Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver, at Richmond, Va., just as Earnhardt was set to win his first race in two years. Earnhardt will start sixth Sunday.
The 600 is NASCAR's longest race, and Elliott Sadler said he's one of "a lot of guys out here" who breathes fresh oxygen before the race to stay in top condition.
Sadler said that after practices Thursday and Saturday, "by the time Sunday rolls around, you've got three or four hours of carbon monoxide in your system.
"So I try to take in some fresh oxygen Saturday night and definitely Sunday morning before the race just to make sure that my blood cells are as pure as they can be."
Veteran Mark Martin, a four-time winner at Lowe's, also was asked how he approaches a 600-mile race: His response: "Well, 599 to go after the first one."
Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, qualified 10th. The reigning Cup champion and his crew have dubbed Lowe's "our house" in view of his five victories at the track, including four consecutive wins in 2004-05.
Johnson, who has earned $60 million in prize money in his Cup career, spent a few minutes chatting with money manager Jim Cramer of TV's "Mad Money" in the garage Thursday.
Cramer "didn't give me any [stock] picks," Johnson said. ------
Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Lowe's and several other race tracks, agreed to buy Kentucky Speedway and hopes to add a Cup race there next year.
The 1.5-mile oval in Sparta, Ky., between Cincinnati and Louisville, Ky., currently hosts races in NASCAR's Nationwide and Craftsman Truck series. "It's a hotbed of racing, we expect to benefit from that," SMI Chairman O. Bruton Smith told a news conference here, adding that he expects to increase the track's seating capacity of 66,000.