"We were pretty strong in practice and hoped to be even faster on our qualifying run," said Busch, who turned in a lap of 39.602 seconds (181.809 mph). "While several of the guys up front picked up from practice, we went a couple of tenths slower. We just outsmarted ourselves out there, I guess you could say.
"We'll have two practices here tomorrow to get our Miller Lite Dodge dialed in for Sunday's race," said Busch, currently fifth in Chase points, trailing leader Mark Martin by 91 points. "The great thing about this track is that it has a long pit road with plenty of room, so where we pit here on Sunday shouldn't be a problem."
Denny Hamlin, only 27th fastest in practice, picked up more than eight-tenths of a second from practice to qualifying and won the Coors Light Pole Award here this afternoon with his fast lap of 39.158 seconds (183.870 mph). David Reutimann will start second after turning in a lap of 39.321 seconds (193.108 mph). Greg Biffle (39.408 seconds/182.704 mph), Jimmie Johnson (39.423 seconds/182.635 mph) and Juan Pablo Montoya (39.492 seconds/182.315 mph) rounded out today's top-five qualifiers.
Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin rounded out the top-10 drivers. Among the other Chase drivers, Jeff Gordon will start 11th, with Carl Edwards 12th, Tony Stewart 21st, Kasey Kahne 26th, Brian Vickers 33rd and Ryan Newman 37th.
Busch's Penske Racing teammate David Stremme qualified his No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge 15th by circling this 2.0-mile D-shaped oval in 39.703 seconds (181.346 mph). Penske teammate Sam Hornish Jr. will start 23rd on Sunday after turning in a lap of 39.808 seconds (180.868 mph) in the No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge.
Saturday's schedule at the Auto Club Speedway features practice sessions from 10:30 a.m. till 11:15 a.m. and from 11:45 a.m. till 12:45 p.m. Sunday's Pepsi 500 (250 Laps, 500 miles) has a scheduled 12:15 p.m. PDT starting time and features live coverage by ABC-TV and MRN Radio.