HOMESTEAD - Kurt Busch is really where he wants to be now. Up front and up front.
The NASCAR Nextel Cup points leader covered the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 30.114 seconds on Friday to earn the pole for Sunday's season-ending Ford 400. His second lap of 179.319 mph put him in a prime spot to gain five crucial bonus points for leading a lap. Entering Sunday, Busch leads Jimmie Johnson by 18 points, Jeff Gordon by 21, Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 72 and Mark Martin by 82.
Busch won from the pole at Homestead in 2002. Gordon qualified fifth, and Johnson took the fourth provisional of his four-year career and will start 39th.
"As far as mental advantage, it's a tremendous plus," Busch said. "For us to be in this position, to start up on the pole and to have those other competitors behind us, is a tremendous advantage.
"Gordon is a top five. Jimmie Johnson is much further back. Those are the two guys we're first and foremost worried about."
Johnson's crew covered the No.48 Chevrolet and left the garage as other teams used the last minutes before curfew to fine-tune. His history suggests the start might not hurt his championship hopes. Johnson finished first, eighth and 17th in his previous provisional starts.
DEEP THOUGHTS: Earnhardt arrived eight minutes late for a live televised forum among the top five drivers, cut across the stage in front of Busch as he delivered an answer, then slumped in a director's chair.
He did manage a philosophical moment regarding how much a championship would mean to him.
"I feel like I'm pretty fortunate that I've made it this far," he said. "Being the son of Dale Earnhardt, I just tried to do everything I could not to embarrass him in my career. I've just tried to make the right moves and do the right things to have gotten to where I am and be able to compete against Jeff and Mark and guys like Kurt and Jimmie."
TRUCK TITLE: Bobby Hamilton, 47, finished 16th in the Ford 200 on Friday to win his first championship in the truck series, edging Dennis Setzer by 46 points.
Kasey Kahne, a Cup rookie dabbling in the truck series, won again after last week's victory at Darlington. The 24-year-old won the Busch Series season nder at Homestead last fall.
The championship was Dodge's first in NASCAR since 1975.
Zephyrhills native David Reutimann finished fourth.
NEW LINEUP: Former Cup driver Ricky Craven and 26-year-old American Speed Association driver Todd Kluever will drive Roush Racing's two truck series entries for 2005.
SPARK PLUGS: Several regular teams failed to make the Ford 400 field as 56 cars - some new teams, some new drivers rehearsing for next season - attempted to qualify. Boris Said, a road racing specialist who has a 10-race deal with MB2 Motorsports next season, made the field at 32nd; Busch champion Martin Truex Jr. is 35th. Kyle Petty failed to make the field for the first time since 2002. ... Nextel Cup driver Tony Stewart has purchased Eldora (Ohio) Speedway, a half-mile clay oval with seating for 20,000 that features some of the most prominent racing divisions in the country. Stewart owns teams in the World of Outlaws and USAC series.