DARLINGTON, S.C. - In the end, two days of practice on a newly repaved Darlington Raceway didn't exactly produce any big surprises.
Several drivers did end up in the wall, including Kasey Kahne (twice), Jimmie Johnson (twice), Robby Gordon, Paul Menard and Reed Sorenson.
When the smoke cleared, the track was cleaned and qualifying was over, it was one of drivers who has found great success at Darlington in the past - Greg Biffle - that emerged to win the pole and will lead the field to the green in Saturday night's Dodge Challenger 500 (7:30 p.m., Fox).
"I think it's weird, because this place is so different now than it has been in the past, that we were able to be successful. That says a lot," said Biffle, who earned his first Sprint Cup Series pole of the season.
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"I'm excited how hard our guys have worked back at the race shop. It's been a big effort to try to get our cars faster. It's easy to drive and look like a hero and put your car on the front row when it drives really good."
Biffle, along with 41 other drivers, crushed the previous track qualifying record of 173.797 mph set by Ward Burton in 1996. Biffle's lap was 179.442 mph.
Biffle has won two of the past three Darlington races and has now qualified worse than ninth in just two of his eight Cup races at the track.
"This track will bite you the second you let your guard down, and even more so now that we're going two seconds a lap faster," he said. "I think this place will always be a fun, challenging place to come. Darlington is really, really tough.
"I talked to a couple drivers (after Thursday's practice) and they were like, 'It's tougher than it has been,' and you think, 'How can it be tougher?'
"But when you run that fast that close to the wall, even before they repaved it, it's not very forgiving. Now, it's less forgiving."
If there was a surprise in qualifying it was the lap laid down by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ended up second fastest on a track that has not typically been among his best.
Earnhardt Jr. has never won at Darlington and has two top-five finishes in his 13 races at the track. He has finished no worse than eighth, however, in his past three races.
Johnson, using a backup car that also required repairs, posted the third-fastest lap. Tony Stewart will start fourth and Kurt Busch fifth. Series points leader Kyle Busch will line up sixth.
Johnson said the rerepaving may actually work against drivers who have typically been successful at Darlington.
"That delicate touch you needed to be successful here, the fact that you could burn off your tires, all of those things are gone right now," he explained.
"Talking to some of the veterans who have been here after they repaved it years back, it started that way then it came back to the old Darlington. It's just going to take a while to get back to what it needs to be and what we have all enjoyed about it."
Another indicator how tough the track has become: The two drivers who failed to make the race on speed - Johnny Sauter and Jeff Green - both went faster than the previous track record.