Business as Usual for Gordon at Pocono
LONG POND, Pa. (AP) _ One after another, the drivers attacked the resurfaced Pocono International Raceway until the previous qualifying record seemed barely worthy of mention.
But by the time it ended Friday, it was business as usual at the top, where Jeff Gordon will sit Sunday at the start of the UAW-GM Teamwork 500. It was the reigning Winston Cup champion’s third straight pole, just another indication that the 24-year driver is taking control of the sport for the second year in a row.
But Gordon, who two weeks ago at Dover won his series-high fourth race of the season, said his pole lap of 169.725 mph means very little.
``Being the fastest in qualifying doesn’t mean you’ll be the fastest in the race,″ he explained.
Dale Jarrett will have to hope he’s right, because his Ford will start far behind Gordon’s Chevy. Jarrett, in line for a $1 million bonus later this year if he can win his third major race of the season, is expected to drive despite fractures to a rib and a leg.
He was injured Friday, when his car spun and hit the wall while he was warming up for his shot at the pole. After leaving a hospital on crutches, Jarrett said he can drive because he’ll be able to sit comfortably.
Just how comfortable he and the rest of the field will be in pursuit of Gordon is another matter, however.
``The car stuck like glue,″ Gordon said. ``I got all I could out of the car and the track today.″
Prior to a 53.207-second tour of the 2.5-mile track that gave him the pole for the running Sunday of the $1.3 million race, Gordon wasn’t optimistic.
``When Cope ran that lap, I thought that’s the lap nobody will ever beat,″ he said of the 169.208 speed Derrike Cope posted in a Ford. ``I was certain it would hold up.″
It didn’t, perhaps because of the luck of the draw. Cope was the 29th of 43 drivers to take the track, Gordon the 38th. Overcast skies later in the afternoon cooled the surface, making the later runs the fastest for the most part.
Despite his lap, Cope predicted it wouldn’t put him on the pole.
``I’m really tickled for the lap,″ he said. ``But you know Jeff Gordon.″
Victimized more than Cope, however, was Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Ken Schrader. He was the ninth driver to try a lap, and the ninth to shatter Rusty Wallace’s two-year-old qualifying mark of 164.558. In the end, 37 drivers surpassed the former standard.
Schrader, seeking his fifth Pocono pole, turned a lap at 168.675. It held up until Cope’s run, and wound up as the fifth-fastest.
``That was definitely a factor,″ Gordon said of the limitation placed on Schrader, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. ``There was was no telling what Schrader could have done if he had run later.″
But Stricklin’s Ford wound up on the inside of the second row on a run of 169.173. He will be flanked Sunday by Ricky Craven, whose Chevy went 168.941.
Schrader was next.
Seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt _ who also leads the points race _ qualified his Chevrolet in 11th position.