BODINE FLIES TO ATLANTA POLE, GORDON HAS LONG WAY TO GO FOR TITLE
------------------------------------------------- by Rodney A. Margison MotorSports PhotoSource OnLine -------------------------------------------------
HAMPTON, Ga. (MSPS) - Geoff Bodine drove the fastest official NASCAR Winston Cup Series lap in 10 years during Saturday's qualifying for Sunday's NAPA 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Bodine, whose success this season has been limited, drove the QVC Ford Thunderbird to a track-record speed of 197.478 mph - over two mph quicker than runner-up Ward Burton.
It is Bodine's third pole at AMS and the 37th time he has qualified for the lead position in his career. He has never won at this track, though, finishing twice three times in 31 races here.
Burton posted his fourth top-ten qualifying effort in the past six races with his 195.452 mph run in the MBNA Pontiac.
The eyes of the racing world, however, will be focused on the battle for the Winston Cup championship. Three drivers are in contention for the title, led by Jeff Gordon.
Gordon's luck has turned sour, though, after an early-morning pit road collision with Bobby Hamilton that forced Gordon to qualify a back-up car.
The 1995 series champ was scuffing his tires before heading out onto the track during the morning practice session when he lost control of the DuPont Chevrolet and hit Hamilton's parked STP Pontiac.
The damage was severe enough to Gordon's machine that repairs could not be made in time for him to qualify the wrecked car, leading the team to pull out the back-up car and call for a second back-up Monte Carlo from its Charlotte, N.C., shop. The third car arrived in Atlanta late Saturday afternoon.
With limited practice and preparation time Gordon qualified 37th-fastest of the 38 drivers who made the race on qualifying speed. Five provisionals were added to the end of the field.
Gordon needs only to finish 18th or better in Sunday's race to clinch the series championship, but will have his work cut out for him.
Series runner-up Dale Jarrett qualified third at 195.115 mph and Mark Martin, the only other driver with a chance of winning the title from his third-place perch, qualified ninth.
Opening-round qualifying was originally scheduled for Friday afternoon but was postponed due to rain. As a result, there was no second-round of qualifying - the field was instead established based upon the single-round speed average for one lap.
The top ten starters in Sunday's NAPA 500 are:
1. Geoff Bodine 197.478 mph 2. Ward Burton 195.452 3. Dale Jarrett 195.115 4. Terry Labonte 195.074 5. Joe Nemechek 195.019 6. Dale Earnhardt 194.540 7. Jeff Green 194.424 8. Kenny Irwin, Jr. 194.397 9. Mark Martin 194.077 10. Bill Elliott 193.758
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