FORT WORTH, Texas -- Things are looking up for Terry Labonte.
After finishing 12th in the Winston Cup points last year -- his worst showing in seven years -- the two-time series champion appears to be back on track.
Coming off a fifth-place finish Sunday in Bristol, Tenn. -- his first top-five since winning last March at Texas Motor Speedway -- the 43-year-old Labonte won the pole Friday for the DirecTV 500.
''We seem to have a pretty good combination when we come to this track,'' said Labonte, a native of Corpus Christi, Texas. ''We came down here to test last week and that probably helped us a little bit.''
Labonte took the top qualifying spot for Sunday's race with a fast lap of 192.137 mph, breaking the track qualifying record of 190.154 set last year by Kenny Irwin.
It's the 26th pole of Labonte's career and first since winning on the road course in Sonoma, Calif., in May 1996.
Asked why it was so long between poles, Labonte said, ''It takes a whole package to qualify well. We've won poles and sometimes it isn't as hard as qualifying 25th if you've got the right package.''
Kevin Lepage grabbed the other front row position with a lap of 191.973 in a Roush Racing Ford.
''One of our guys watching from the top of the transporter said Terry got me by getting up to speed just a little bit quicker,'' Lepage said. ''There wasn't anything else I could do, though. That was as perfect a lap as I could drive around this speedway.''
Rookies Scott Pruett and Dale Earnhardt Jr. shared the second, with Pruett qualifying at 191.775 and Earnhardt at 191.666. They were followed by defending series champion Dale Jarrett at 191.340, last week's pole-winner Steve Park at 191.245 and rookie Jeff Fuller at 190.705.
Pruett, moving to NASCAR from the CART series, has had an up and down year in qualifying, making only three of six races, but qualifying second in Las Vegas.
''Guys on my team have been joking they're going to sell tickets for the roller-coaster ride,'' Pruett said. ''We're just going to keep working at it.''
Earnhardt, the son of the seven-time Winston Cup champion, is the only driver to have qualified among the top 12 at every race this season, including six in the top 10.
''We qualify well every week,'' said Earnhardt, 23rd in the points. ''We've got to get some good races under our belts the next couple of weeks.''
Ward Burton, who crashed hard during the morning practice, qualified his backup car ninth at 190.510.
''I'm a little sore,'' Burton said. ''It hit pretty damn hard. I don't want to do that again any time soon.''
Burton, who won two weeks ago in Darlington, S.C., was checked and released at the infield medical center. He was diagnosed with a bruised left ankle.
''He would have been a contender, I'm sure,'' Labonte said of Burton. ''Qualifying as good as he did without having run a lap in his backup car, that shows how good they are.''
Although he is ninth in the season points after the first six races, Labonte wasn't showing much until Bristol, where he qualified a then season-high seventh.
''I have to look at our team as a pretty new team,'' he said. ''Gary DeHart, my crew chief, is back after sitting out a couple of years. Every week our team has gotten a little strong, a little bit better. The guys have really stepped up.''
Jerry Nadeau and Jeff Gordon, Labonte's Hendrick Motorsports teammates, both qualified their Chevrolets among the top 25, locking in starting positions for Sunday's race.
The rest of the entries will have the choice of standing on their first-day lap or trying again on Saturday. That includes Adam Petty, who was 33rd at 188.534 in his effort to earn his first Winston Cup start.
The fourth-generation driver has no team-owner points to fall back on, so he must finish among the top 36 in order to make the lineup.
Petty, who is a regular in the Busch Series and qualified 13th for today's Albertson's 300 on the 1 1/2-mile Texas oval, said, ''If I can get in the Cup race, I just want to ride around and make laps. Hopefully, we'll be all right.''
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.