DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Aric Almirola outran Jason Leffler on Friday to grab his second NASCAR Busch Series pole in his 10th attempt — and this time he'll race, too.
The 22-year-old Hispanic driver won his first pole last June in Milwaukee, sitting in for Nextel Cup star Denny Hamlin, who was qualifying the same day in Sonoma, Calif.
Hamlin flew back in time to run the Wisconsin race, and Almirola, a graduate of the diversity program started in 2003 by Joe Gibbs Racing and late football star Reggie White, had to watch from pit road.
When team president J.D. Gibbs came up to congratulate Almirola on Friday, the youngster had one question: "I get to drive this time, right boss?"'
Almirola set the bar high early turning a fast lap of 183.741 mph on a cold, windy afternoon. Then Almirola, who grew up in Tampa, Fla., watched while driver after driver took a shot at the top spot.
"It was nerve-racking," he said. "I'm sure I won't get very much sleep tonight, and I'm sure I'll be nervous tomorrow. But, when we take the green flag, I'm a rookie, but I'm no different than anybody else out there."
Leffler, driving the fastest of the new Busch Series Toyotas, came closest to knocking the youngster off the top spot with a 183.587.
Jon Wood took the third spot for Saturday's Orbitz 300 at 183.531, followed by two-time Busch champion and current Nextel Cup regular Martin Truex Jr. at 183.419.
Almirola, who comes from Cuban ancestry, raced full time in the Craftsman Truck Series last year and finished 18th in the standings. He'll share time this season in the No. 18 Busch Chevrolet with Gibbs teammates Hamlin, two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart and rookies Brad Coleman and Kevin Conway.
J.J. Yeley, another Gibbs driver who won the pole here last year, was among the six drivers who failed to qualify for the 43-car field and will not race Saturday.