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Kenseth Wins Dover Pole

June 1, 2002

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DOVER, Del. (AP) _ Matt Kenseth picked an appropriate time to win the first pole of his Winston Cup career, making it a welcome-back present for car owner Jack Roush.

The boss was at Dover International Speedway on Friday, his first public appearance since an airplane he was piloting crashed and nearly killing him on April 19. He also was back in the pilot’s seat.

``I flew up here today,″ Roush said. ``I don’t want to waste any time. Every day is special and these are extra days.″

Roush, using crutches but otherwise appearing healthy, was delighted to be back in his element, watching his four cars qualify.

Kenseth made him especially glad he was back by driving his Ford around The Monster Mile in 23.235 seconds at 154.939 mph.

But his first pole was of less interest to Kenseth than just obtaining a good starting spot.

``If we ever qualify in the top 10, it’s party time,″ Kenseth said. ``It’s almost like we won the race.″

But the return of Roush to the track was the biggest story. It’s also the latest development in his amazing recovery from a head injury, multiple breaks to his left leg, a bruised lung and broken ribs.

Roush’s ability to bounce back from his injuries has been astounding to many, among them Dr. Samuel Wyndham, who treated the car owner at University Hospital in Birmingham, Ala.

``I would estimate that less than five people out of 100 would have survived similar injuries,″ Wyndham said a week after the crash.

An avid pilot who flies his own planes to many races, Roush had been celebrating his 60th birthday when he crashed after striking some wires two days before an event at nearby Talladega Superspeedway. He was alone in the plane, and rescued by a retired marine.

``I’m upside-down, I’ve still got some air left in my lungs and lo and behold there’s Larry Hicks,″ he said. ``When he jumped in the water there was no proof there wasn’t going to be a fire.″

Hicks, familiar with rescue procedures, dived through the high-octane aviation fuel floating to the surface to find the wreckage in 8 feet of water. He freed Roush and brought him to the surface.

Only by chance did Roush crash just as Hicks had a small boat ready to go out on the lake.

``I crashed in exactly the right spot at the right time,″ Roush said. ``I was the luckiest person in the United States and maybe the luckiest person in the world.″

Kenseth, the third-year driver who stands second to Sterling Marlin in the points, was surprised by the pole.

``I’m not really a good qualifier,″ he said.

Bill Elliott, a four-time Dover winner who hasn’t prevailed on the track since 1990, made it an all-Ford front row with a lap at 154.374.

But he seemed to be less excited by that than the return of Roush, for whom he has driven in other forms of racing.

``I spoke to him on pit road and asked him when he was going to grow up,″ Elliott related. ``He said if it had been a real airplane he would have made it through the wire.″

Third in a Pontiac was Jerry Nadeau, who went 154.136 in his final start as a a fill-in driver. Injured Johnny Benson will return to the car next week at Pocono Raceway.

Nadeau will start inside Michael Waltrip, whose Chevrolet got around in 154.030.

Roush driver Kurt Busch, Ricky Craven, Ricky Rudd and Elliott Sadler grabbed the next four positions, followed by defending champion Jeff Gordon and his teammate, rookie Jimmie Johnson.

Marlin qualified 13th.

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