Thomas Bowles · Sunday February 13, 2005
Dale Jarrett was on the pole for Saturday night’s Bud Shootout, but led only one lap before being shuffled to the back of the pack. Next Sunday, Jarrett’s hoping to stay out front a lot longer.
The driver of the No. 88 UPS Ford won the pole Sunday for next week’s Daytona 500 with an average speed of 188.312 mph. The 23rd of 57 drivers to take time during a lengthy 3-hour qualifying session, Jarrett knocked early polesitter Jeff Gordon off the front row and then survived stiff challenges from Chevy drivers Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick to win his third career pole for the Great American Race. The 48-year-old driver last won the pole here in 2000; that was also the last time he finished first in the 500. Jarrett hopes that’s a good sign.
“It would mean a lot to me – probably as much or more if I could get another Daytona 500 at this time in my career and at this time in our sport,” said a flu-plagued Jarrett after capturing the pole. He was also quick to give credit to his crew.
“These guys have been working on this race car since last October,” said the 3-time Daytona 500 winner. “It’s just a great testament to the work that the guys do because the driver’s job is to get it in high gear on this day (qualifying), and I think we’ve got a really good race car. Things like this certainly make the healing process (from the flu) a lot better.”
Johnson, the 53rd driver to take time, came up just short, qualifying on the outside of the front row and knocking teammate Gordon off it by four one thousandths of a second. But the Saturday winner of the Bud Shootout was mighty pleased to be starting second for Sunday.
“To come out second in a sense was a bit of a surprise because we’re not focused on qualifying,” said a confident Johnson. “To be second, we’re very excited about that. We feel that we’ve got a better car for the 500 than we had last night (in the Shootout).”
Gordon, Kevin Harvick, and Joe Nemechek rounded out the Top 5 in the MB2 Motorsports Chevrolet. Among the other strong performances turned in Sunday were from new Joe Gibbs driver Jason Leffler, running a strong 7th in the new No. 11 Fed Ex Chevrolet; 42-year-old rookie Boris Said, qualifying 11th in his first attempt at the 500 with the No. 36 Centrix MB2 car; and Kyle Petty, who was the fastest Dodge on Sunday with a 12th-place run in his No. 45 Brawny Dodge. But the run was bittersweet for Petty Enterprises, as teammate Jeff Green was among a handful of drivers who blew their engines; he will start last in one of Thursday’s Gatorade Duel 150s.
On the other hand, the DEI cars, dominant on the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega since 2001, looked awful on Sunday. None of the 3 cars of Martin Truex, Jr., Michael Waltrip, or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. placed within the Top 20, with Earnhardt, Jr. turning in the 39th-fastest time for Sunday. Dale Jr. showed some frustration after his run, claiming his team was down on horsepower, but insisted the 8 car would draft well and be a factor during the rest of SpeedWeeks.
Under the new qualifying system for the 500, Jarrett and Johnson are now locked into their positions and will start on the pole in each of the qualifying races on Thursday. Those who qualified in odd positions (1st, 3rd, 5th, etc.) will race in the first 150 while those with even qualifying positions (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) will race in the second.
However, with the new rules the Top 35 cars in 2004 owners points are guaranteed starting positions for the race, so those drivers are in no matter what they do on Thursday. The remaining eight positions will be filled by the top two finishing drivers in each Duel who are driving a car NOT guaranteed a spot, with the last four positions on the grid filled by Sunday’s qualifying speeds from the remaining cars.
With that criteria, four “outside the Top 35” drivers guaranteed themselves a spot in next Sunday’s race by their qualifying runs: Leffler, Said, Mike Skinner in the No. 23 Bill Davis car, and John Andretti in the No. 14 Victory/Sunoco ppc Racing Ford. Among the drivers in trouble who will have to claim their starting spot through Thursday’s qualifying races were Kerry Earnhardt, Kenny Wallace, Robby Gordon, Martin Truex, Jr., rookie contender Eric McClure, former Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope, and former Pepsi 400 winner Greg Sacks.
Another driver in trouble, Hermie Sadler, may have spoken for all of those on the Daytona bubble when he said, “We’ve got"¦to get our car to drive good and race good and get it in on Thursday. It’s not over yet. We’ll keep our heads up and keep working and, hopefully, something good will happen.”
But for those remaining drivers, the odds are slim, as 14 of the 18 will go home disappointed after Thursday’s Duels.
Today on the Frontstretch!
Bowles-Eye View: Follow the leader? Let’s hope not
Jarrett captures pole, Johnson 2nd For Daytona 500
Couch Potato Corner: Bud Shootout
Frontstretch 2005 Preview: 9th – Jamie McMurray
Frontstretch 2005 Preview: 10th – Matt Kenseth
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