LOUDON, N.H. (AP) – Brian Vickers won the third pole of his NASCAR Nextel Cup career during qualifying Saturday at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Vickers, in his second full season on the circuit, drove his Chevrolet around The Magic Mile at 130.327 mph. That earned him the top spot for today’s New England 300, giving Vickers his first pole since last September at California Speedway.

“We really focused on race trim,” Vickers said of his preparations during Friday’s practice. “We really didn’t have a chance to make a qualifying run.

“We knew we had a good race car, but didn’t think it was this good for qualifying.”

The 21-year-old driver from Thomasville, N.C., hopes to parlay the pole into his first career victory in his 60th start. His top finish came last month when he placed second in the Pocono 500.

Although he’s 22nd in the series standings, Vickers has had three top-six finishes – including a fourth last Sunday in Joliet, Ill. – in the last six races and has led the most laps twice this season.

“The win is close,” Vickers said. “When you run well and lead a lot of laps you can’t leave with your head hanging down.”

Kasey Kahne qualified second in a Dodge at 130.215, falling just short of his third pole of the season.

“We went out first, and in the past it seems like that hurt,” he said, noting that the Busch series cars finished qualifying just 30 minutes before the Cup cars hit the track. “But it was actually a pretty good spot to qualify. It was coolest then, and I felt like it was a good lap.”

Elliott Sadler wound up third in a Ford at 129.798.

“Track position is very important at this race track,” he said. “We came up here and tested a few weeks ago, and it paid off for us.”

Locking up the fourth spot in the 43-car field was track record-holder Ryan Newman, who got around at 129.776 in a Dodge. He set the record of 133.357 in September 2003.

Series champion Kurt Busch was fifth in a Ford at 129.767. Rusty Wallace, rookie Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Bobby Labonte completed the top 10.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson will start 12th.

Joey McCarthy, Derrike Cope, Wayne Anderson and Hermie Sadler failed to make the field. Carl Long got in at 35th despite hitting the wall on his second lap.

AP-ES-07-16-05 1455EDT

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