For Immediate Release IRVAN EDGES NEMECHEK FOR BRICKYARD 400 POLE INDIANAPOLIS, July 31, 1997 -- Ernie Irvan toured the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval at an track stock-car record average speed of 177.736 miles an hour Thursday to capture...

For Immediate Release

IRVAN EDGES NEMECHEK FOR BRICKYARD 400 POLE

INDIANAPOLIS, July 31, 1997 -- Ernie Irvan toured the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval at an track stock-car record average speed of 177.736 miles an hour Thursday to capture the pole position for the Brickyard 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race.

Irvan just edged Joe Nemechek by .053 of a second in the closest pole battle in the four-year history of the race. Nemechek s speed was 177.550.

Defending winner Dale Jarrett was third at 177.494, followed by Darrell Waltrip at 176.866 and Dale Earnhardt at 176.536.

Irvan follows in the footsteps of Rick Mast (1994) and Jeff Gordon (1995 and 1996) as pole winners for the event. It was the 18th pole of his Winston Cup career and his first since April 26, 1996 at Talladega, Ala.

"I m really relieved," Irvan said. "It s been a pretty tough week. We unloaded the car and it was uncompetitive. The guys worked on the motors and got it down the straightaways real fast. I told them I had it going through the corners as fast as it was going to go and that they needed to get me some speed down the straights. They did a great job."

In all, five drivers bettered Jeff Gordon s previous track record of 176.419 miles an hour set last year. Waltrip was the first, then Jarrett took command before Irvan nailed down the No. 1 starting spot.

The top 25 drivers were locked into the field Thursday. Positions 26-38 will be filled by second round time trials at 1 p.m. Friday.

Mike Skinner, in sixth, was the fastest rookie qualifier at 176.415. Ron Barfield, driving a car owned by Bill Elliott, made his first Winston Cup field by qualifying 23rd at 175.087.

Robby Gordon, who starts in 11th spot after qualifying at 176.074, becomes the second driver to start the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year and the fifth Indy 500 veteran to make a Brickyard 400 field. John Andretti was the first to double in 1994 and "500" vets A.J. Foyt, Danny Sullivan and Geoff Brabham also started the inaugural Brickyard.

Jeff Gordon, the pole winner the past two years at Indy, qualified at 175.056 to start 24th -- the same spot that Jarrett started en route to his 1996 Brickyard 400 victory.

The race begins at 12:15 p.m. (EST) Saturday and will be aired live by ABC Sports and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.

...97BY-12...

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Series General
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Ernie Irvan , Dale Jarrett , Mike Skinner , Joe Nemechek , Robby Gordon , Rick Mast , Geoff Brabham , A.J. Foyt