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Rusty Wallace Wins Pole at Bristol

March 27, 1998

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) _ Winston Cup points leader Rusty Wallace added to his growing list of 1998 accomplishments by winning the pole Friday for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It was the first pole of the year for Wallace, who is the only driver on the circuit with five top-five finishes in the first five races and is the only one to complete every possible lap.

The next accomplishment Wallace wants to put on his 1998 resume is a victory.

``I feel good about it. Let’s rock and roll,″ said Wallace, who has six career victories on Bristol’s .533-mile, high-banked oval, including four during the 1990s.

Wallace turned a fast lap of 124.275 mph, giving Ford’s new Taurus its fourth pole of the year and spoiling Chevrolet’s bid for its first top starting spot of 1998.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte, both driving Monte Carlos, were second- and third-fastest. Gordon turned a 123.762 and Labonte had a 123.539.

Mike Skinner, in a Chevrolet, and Jeff Burton, in a Ford, rounded out the top five. But no one was able to come close to the lap posted by Wallace, who captured his 19th career pole, including his second in a row at the Food City 500.

``It ran like a rocket today. It was good right off the truck,″ Wallace said. ``You’ve got to like the place to run good here, and I enjoy coming here. This is like a second home to me.″

Gordon, seeking his fourth consecutive Food City 500 victory Sunday, is in fourth place in the driver standings, 147 points behind Wallace.

``This is not an easy place to qualify, especially to qualify good,″ Gordon said. ``My car pushed up on me a little, but I’m happy to run what we did.″

Dale Earnhardt and his new employee, Darrell Waltrip, headed a list of notables failing to make the field Friday, when the top 25 starting positions were set.

Earnhardt, the Daytona 500 champion, had only the 42nd-fastest speed of the 47 drivers who made qualifying runs.

``I haven’t found the adjectives or adverbs to describe what I’m feeling,″ he said.

Waltrip, who sold his race team earlier this week, was 37th-fastest in his first day as a substitute driver for Dale Earnhardt Inc. Earnhardt hired Waltrip to take over the driving duties for Steve Park, who is expected to miss several months while recovering from injuries in a crash this month at Atlanta.

Also unable to crack the top 25 Friday were Dick Trickle, Kenny Irwin and Michael Waltrip.

Trickle had the 36th-fastest speed after deciding the best way to cope with his grief was to come to Bristol for the weekend and race. Trickle’s nephew, Chris Trickle, died Wednesday night in Las Vegas, 13 months after being shot on a freeway overpass. The funeral is Sunday.

Irwin, the circuit’s top rookie, had started fifth in each of the past two races, but he scraped the backstretch wall on his qualifying run and wound up 43rd.

Waltrip spun down the backstretch during the final prequalifying practice session and hit a concrete retaining wall, severely damaging the right side of his Ford and forcing him to use a backup in time trials. He was 30th.

Those who didn’t make the top 25 had the option of standing on their first-round efforts or trying again Saturday, when a second round of time trials is scheduled to set the remainder of the 43-car starting grid.

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