CONCORD, N.C. (Oct. 4, 2000) Jeff Gordon was back in form Wednesday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway at Charlotte. Gordon turned a fast lap of 185.561 mph to edge Bobby Labonte and capture the Bud Pole for the UAW-GM Quality 500. Sunday's race...
CONCORD, N.C. (Oct. 4, 2000) Jeff Gordon was back in form Wednesday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway at Charlotte. Gordon turned a fast lap of 185.561 mph to edge Bobby Labonte and capture the Bud Pole for the UAW-GM Quality 500.
Sunday's race will mark the seventh time Gordon will lead the field to the green flag in a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at the suburban Charlotte track.
The 1.5-mile layout is where Gordon got his first career Bud Pole in 1993, and his career total at Charlotte is the highest among all active drivers. But the last time the NASCAR Winston Cup community visited Charlotte, in May for the Coca-Cola 600, Gordon looked like anything but a qualifying master at the high-banked superspeedway.
Relegated to the 14th spot on the starting grid, Gordon and his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet crew vowed to improve on that figure for the fall event. Some adjustments to the car left them confident they would. But improve all the way to the front of the starting grid?
"I don't think I had any idea that it would be quite this good," Gordon said after capturing the 32nd Bud Pole of his career and his second of NASCAR 2000. "But I'm not surprised that it happened here at Charlotte."
While Gordon is in ninth place in the driver standings, effectively eliminated from contention for his fourth championship, Labonte is showing no signs of slipping in his quest for career title No. 1. His lap of 185.516 in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac put him in prime position for his 18th consecutive top-15 finish.
"It's pretty cool to get somewhere where you feel comfortable," said Labonte, who got his first career victory at Charlotte in 1995 and has finished sixth or better in six of the last seven races at the track, a run punctuated by three consecutive second-place finishes.
Rounding out the top-5 qualifiers were Jerry Nadeau in the No. 25 Michael Holigan.com Chevrolet at 185.484, Jimmy Spencer in the No. 26 Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford at 185.153 and Dale Jarrett in the No. 88 Quality Care Ford at 185.103.
Nadeau was upset after his run, which he said was hampered when his Monte Carlo bottomed out as he exited the backstretch and went into the third turn. From Nadeau's perspective, the scrape against the blacktop meant the difference between starting on the inside of the second row and earning the first Bud Pole of his career.
"That was my pole," Nadeau lamented. "I wanted that bad."
Jarrett said his Taurus bottomed out heading into the first turn. Nonetheless, he wasn't about to complain.
"That's OK," said Jarrett, who is fourth in the points, 251 off Labonte's lead. "We've had a good effort here so far, and I think we've got a great car for Sunday."
Dale Earnhardt, second in the points chase, 213 behind Labonte with six events remaining on the schedule, had plenty to complain about after posting just the 45th-fastest speed of the 50 drivers entered. Earnhardt, who had a 179.110 in the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, had the option of trying again in a second round of time trials Thursday, when starting positions 26-36 were to be determined, or taking a provisional starting spot for Sunday's 334-lap event. Team officials said they planned to skip second-round qualifying and take the first available provisional, putting them 37th on the 43-car starting grid.
The odds of Earnhardt staging a comeback to win a series-record eighth championship are certainly not insurmountable. Exhibit A to support that argument is the late Alan Kulwicki, who rallied from a 278-point deficit in the final six races of 1992 to win by 10 points, the closest finish in circuit history.
Nonetheless, Earnhardt was not pleased with the way he will begin the season's stretch run.
"It's tough to race for points starting from the rear," Earnhardt said, shaking his head.
The UAW-GM Quality 500 is to get the green flag at 1:10 p.m. ET and be broadcast live by TBS and PRN Radio. -nascar.com-