BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) _ Dale Earnhardt once was the man to beat at Michigan Speedway. That's why he is hoping for a strong run in Sunday's DeVilbiss 400.

His weekend got off to a shaky start, however, when he failed to earn a spot among Friday's top 25 qualifiers. Earnhardt, with a speed of 180.950 mph, will have to earn his spot Saturday in the second-chance run for positions 26-38.

Earnhardt, who has at least one victory in 15 straight seasons, is winless on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit in 1997. His best finish was a fourth in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July. It was his only top-5 finish this year.

Still, things have been looking up in recent weeks. In four of the last five races, Earnhardt and his Chevrolet Monte Carlo have been among the five fastest qualifiers.

``We've seen a lot of improvement with the race car,'' Earnhardt said. ``The results may not show exactly how well we've run, but we know where we are headed. If we can get everything to go right at the same time on the same day, we're going to be the best on one of these Sunday's real soon.''

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QUICK MAKEOVER: The crew of Jeremy Mayfield's Ford Thunderbird did a quick makeover on the car's paint scheme for this race. The red, white and blue design was altered to make the Kmart logo more prominent on the hood.

The car is co-sponsored by RC Cola, but Kmart is headquartered in the Detroit suburb of Troy.

``The associate sponsors, and RC Cola, agreed to honor this `homecoming' and placing the focus on Kmart's logo,'' said Ken Kramer, divisional vice president for Kmart. ``Racing at Michigan is especially thrilling for Kmart because it's in our home state.''

Mayfield is eighth in this week's Winston Cup points standings, a record high for the Kranefuss-Hass racing team.

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MORE PAINT: The Kmart car isn't the only one getting a paint job this week. Georff Bodine's Thunderbird will be running in gold Sunday.

The switch from his familiar black and red paint scheme is part of QVC's 24-hour Klondike Gold Rush on Aug. 17. In addition, Bodine also will wear a gold QVC driver's suit and helmet for the 400-mile race.

``Maybe after we run the gold car in the race, we'll take it down to QVC and sell it with all the other gold they'll have on the show that day.''

The promotion celebrates the anniversary of striking gold in the Klondike.

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NOTES: Heavy morning rain over the Irish Hills region of southern Lower Michigan washed out the second qualifying round for Saturday's Detroit Gasket 200, a Busch Grand National race. As a result, the field of 38 cars had to stand on Thursday's results. Hermie Sadler will be on the pole after a track record qualifying run of 175.511 mph. ...If Bill Elliott wins at least $36,490 in Sunday's race, he will become the first NASCAR driver to earn $1 million dollars exclusively from his racing at Michigan. Elliott has won seven times in 38 races at Michigan. ...DeVilbiss, for the truly curious, manufactures spray guns. In addition to a hefty share of the $1.6 million purse, the winner of Sunday's race will also win a customized Harley-Davidson motorcycle which DeVilbiss had built and painted. ...A crowd estimated conservatively at 45,000 filled the main grandstands _ at $5 each _ for qualifying.