BUSCH: Talladega qualifying report

Nemechek sets track record in Humminbird 500k qualifying TALLADEGA, Ala. (July 25) -- Former NASCAR Busch Series champion Joe Nemechek hammered the division's qualifying record Thursday when he won the Busch Pole Award for Saturday's ...

Nemechek sets track record in Humminbird 500k qualifying

TALLADEGA, Ala. (July 25) -- Former NASCAR Busch Series champion Joe Nemechek hammered the division's qualifying record Thursday when he won the Busch Pole Award for Saturday's Humminbird Fishfinder 500k at Talladega Superspeedway. Nemechek, a regular competitor on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series who won the 1992 Busch Series championship prior to moving up to the Winston Cup Series, won his sixth career BGN Busch Pole when he ran his BellSouth Mobility Chevrolet Monte Carlo around the 2.66-mile "World's Fastest Speedway" in 49.648 seconds, an average speed of 192.878 mph. Nemechek's hot lap was more than two miles per hour faster than outside polesitter Phil Parsons, who clocked a lap at 190.757 in his newly-rebodied ChannelLock Tools Monte Carlo. Defending Humminbird 500k winner Chad Little, two-time defending pole winner Jeff Purvis and Dick Trickle rounded out the top five. Dale Jarrett has the fastest Ford Thunderbird, in ninth. Fifty cars attempted to qualify. "Last year when we came here Jeff Purvis pretty much whipped the whole field (winning the pole), when we thought we'd have something for him there," said Nemechek, who won his first Busch Series pole since the 1995 season-closer at Homestead, Fla., and his first at Talladega. "So we came here and did a lot of testing and made the car go fast. "It's the same car we sat on the outside of the front row with at Daytona, but it got wrecked there. We had to put new front and rear clips and a new body on it. It's just a fast car. "It (pole-winning lap) was pretty hairy -- right on the edge of being loose. To go around Daytona and Talladega the car has got to be right on the edge -- there were a few times I didn't know if I was going to make it around the corner. But, we did a pretty good lap." Nemechek has run all four Busch races at Talladega with his best finish, fourth, coming a year ago. The field of up to 43 cars for the event will be filled in Busch Beer Second-Round Qualifying Friday morning. Busch Pole Award Qualifying for the Sears DieHard 500 will be held at 3 p.m. Friday. Reserved tower seats for the Humminbird 500k are availble for $40 each. Reserved seats for the DieHard 500 are available from $35-95 up until Saturday. Call the Talladega Ticket Office at 205- 362-9064 for information. Credit cards will not be accepted on Sunday at the gates.

THURSDAY NOTES

SEARS DIEHARD 500 PRE-RACE NOTES With the addition of several NASCAR Winston Cup contingency awards, the posted awards for the Sears DieHard 500 have risen to an event- record $1,631,758. In addition to the previously announced awards, $30,400 has "rolled over" to the Unocal 76 Challenge -- making Sunday's potential award $38,000 -- and $150,000 has rolled over to the Winston Award -- making Sunday's potential award $160,000. The Unocal 76 Challenge will be awarded to any driver who can capture the Busch Pole Award for Sunday's Sears DieHard 500 and go on to win the race. The Winston Award goes to any driver who wins Sunday's race and leads in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings following the race. The drivers mathematically eligible for the award are current point leader Terry Labonte, seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt and defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

Don Cope, father of 1993 Daytona 500 champion and Bobby Allison Motorsports driver Derrike Cope, was hospitalized in his home state of Washington following a heart attack Tuesday. Cope had by-pass surgery performed at Tacoma General Hospital and is in intensive care. A spokesman for Allison Motorsports said early Wednesday that the elder Cope was doing well and recovering from the operation. Derrike Cope has gone to Washington to be by his father's side, therefore, Tim Bender -- who filed intentions at the beginning of the season to compete for Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the Busch Series -- will qualify the FoxCo Racing Busch Series entry today. Cope is expected to return for NASCAR Winston Cup qualifying and final Busch Series practice Friday.

The competitive nature of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series seldom allows for a pre-race favorite. Going into each race, seemingly any driver has an equal opportunity at capturing the event title. However, with recent unquestionable success at NASCAR's two fastest superspeedways, Sterling Marlin and his Morgan-McClure Motorsports team have established themselves as the team to beat in the Sears DieHard 500. The team has won eight of the last 17 carburetor restrictor plate races at Talladega and Daytona, including the 1994-95 Daytona 500s, '95 Sears DieHard 500, '96 Winston Select 500 and '96 Pepsi 400. Horsepower and handling are not problems for the Kodak Film Chevrolet team. Since the season-opening '95 Daytona 500 (seven total events), Marlin has won all restrictor plate races in which he did not experience mechanical failures, with the exception of the '95 Pepsi 400 at Daytona where he finished second to Jeff Gordon by one car length. Marlin is also the defending Busch Pole Award winner for the DieHard 500.

The Grand Marshal for Sunday's Sears DieHard 500 is former Dallas Cowboy and Alabama Crimson Tide star Lee Roy Jordan. Jordan played linebacker for both squads. The Honorary Starter is Noel Dawson of Merced, Calif., the winner of the national DieHard Fan Award promotion.

Among the drivers exiting Talladega Superspeedway following the Winston Select 500 in April with a great deal of work to be done in the body shop was Ricky Rudd. Rudd was involved in a spectacular incident in turn one of the 2.66-mile trioval, which eliminated 14 cars from contention and left several teams, including Rudd's, scrambling to rebuild or replace cars. Once "re-skinned," Rudd took the Tide Ford to Daytona for the Pepsi 400 without the luxury of a test session. Having to take a provisional starting position, he described his qualifying attempt as "pretty intimidating and pretty frustrating." Rudd tested at Daytona for the Sears DieHard 500 on July 16-17 and found what he was looking for, "a car that will race real well and one that will qualify near the front. We came a long way (during the test). We really had to scratch to find a little bit here and a little bit there. When we found something that helped we explored that a little bit more -- things like air pressure, cowls and little aerodynamic things. That's the way it is these days. The horsepower has been pretty much constant. It's hard work to find those last few tenths."

The DieHard 500 will be telecast live on CBS Sports at 12 noon Central time and broadcast live on MRN Radio beginning at 12 noon.

Former DieHard 500 Busch Pole Award winners who are entered include Bill Elliott (4), Sterling Marlin (3), Dale Earnhardt (2), Dave Marcis (2), Geoff Bodine, Darrell Waltrip and Mark Martin.

Former DieHard 500 winners who are entered include Dave Marcis (1976), Darrell Waltrip (1979, '82), Dale Earnhardt (1983-84, '90- 91, '93), Bobby Hillin (1986), Bill Elliott (1987), Ken Schrader (1988), Terry Labonte (1989), Ernie Irvan (1992), Jimmy Spencer (1994) and Sterling Marlin (1995). Race record average speed is 176.309 mph set by Irvan in 1992.

TERRY LABONTE (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet) -- I'm really thrilled that we're at the top of the points race, but we still have a long way to go. Just because you're at the top doesn't mean that you change anything. We're in the Busch race on Saturday and we are going to try and do our best in it. We've had some good runs with our Busch car this year -- we've won a couple of races and been close a few more times so hopefully, we can win another one here. I think the only guy that has an advantage here (in the Sears DieHard 500) is the No. 4 (Sterling Marlin) car. They are very strong when we get to a restrictor plate race. Everybody else seems to be pretty even. Maybe the No. 4 car doesn't get away -- but you just can't pass him. I think he runs just as fast as he needs to.

ERNIE IRVAN (No. 28 Texaco Havoline Ford) -- I feel really good about what has happened this year and feel good what happened last year -- just to get back to racing. We had some ups and downs at the beginning of the year. The way that I look at it is that there is a lot of Winston Cup teams -- probably all of the guys behind us right now -- wish that they had as good of a year that we've had and we've been complaining about it. Now we've started putting everything together and we came from 19th in points up to 10th and who knows where we are going to end up? Obviously, we're not going to win the points championship because Terry (Labonte) and those guys are quite a bit of points ahead. But we're just going to keep doing what we do best: Trying to put a good race car on the race track and trying to accomplish all the laps you can and leading as many laps as you can and just continuing on with what we've got started. The restrictor plates bunched up the field and some of the rule changes and some of the motor changes have actually bunched up the field even tighter. Hopefully, everybody will remember the accident in April. It was a very unfortunate accident. I mean we're lucky Ricky Craven is back racing. A lot of guys (race cars) got tore up -- me included. Hopefully, everybody will remember what happened and when it comes time for Sunday, we will have a good race. (CAN HE WIN THE BUSCH POLE FRIDAY?) We didn't know we were gonna have the pole in April, but we are fortunate to have that same race car again. We didn't qualify that well in Daytona (for the Pepsi 400). I think the Chevrolets were a little better than us at Daytona, but maybe we will show up here at Talladega and maybe the Fords will be a little bit better. I can almost bet you that we will qualify better here than where I've been qualifing at the other race tracks. I feel good that we will have a good race car here.

TNN NOTES STERLING MARLIN will be interviewed live from Talladega on the early edition of Raceday Sunday at 12 noon (Eastern), prior to the 12:15 p.m. (Central) start of the Sears DieHard 500, of which Marlin is the defending champion.

HUMMINBIRD FISHFINDER 500K PRE-RACE NOTES Saturday's Humminbird Fishfinder 500K will see a repeat Grand Marshal from last year s event. Jimmy Houston, a bass fishing professional, will give the command to start engines the day before his birthday. The Honorary Starter for the race will be randomly chosen from the grandstand as part of the Humminbird Wide Open Sweepstakes. A lucky fan will go from their seat to the starter's stand to wave the green flag over the starting field of more than 38 cars.

Posted awards for the Humminbird Fishfinder 500k are an event record $456,634. That is the second-highest posted awards of the season to date, trailing on the season-opening Goody s Headache Powder 300 at Daytona.

The two-time defending Busch Pole Award winner for the Humminbird 500k is Jeff Purvis. Defending race winner is Chad Little, the only former winner who is entered. The race record average speed of 167.472 mph was set by Ken Schrader in 1994.

The Humminbird 500k will be telecast live on CBS Sports at 12:45 p.m. Central time and broadcast live on MRN Radio at 12:45.

David Green, a two-time winner this season, holds a 75-point lead over Randy LaJoie in the NASCAR Busch Series points coming into the weekend. LaJoie won the Series most recent event at New Hampshire International Speedway, his third victory of the year.

Doug Heveron, a NACAR Busch Series regular, is in a new ride this weekend as he pilots the ACDelco Chevrolet owned by Ken Schrader. Heveron had been driving the Food Country USA Ford owned by Charlie Henderson this season, but the Henderson team has temporarily ceased operations. Schrader, who won the 1994 Humminbird Fishfinder 500k, has served as a team owner only in NASCAR Busch Series races this season. His car has been driven in selected races by Andy Hillenburg and, most recently, Bobby Dotter. The Henderson team is expected to return to action at Bristol next month.

Randy LaJoie related a funny story about his first race at Talladega, the 1993 version of the Humminbird Fishfinder 500k, in which he finished second to Dale Earnhardt. "I was following Earnhardt and (Ken) Schrader, and I noticed they kept sticking their hand out the window when they went down the backstretch. I didn't know why they were doing it, but I figured if they were doing it that I should do it, too. But the first time I tried it, it almost blew my arm off, and my watch broke and cut my wrist under my gloves. I asked them about it after the race, and Schrader said they did it to get some air in the car, but they only stuck out their fingers."

CHAD LITTLE (No. 23 John Deere Pontiac) -- Last year there was an accident with about 10 laps left in the race and it took five or six laps to clean up the accident and we ended up having one to go (when the race restarted). (Jimmy) Spencer was right behind me and Jimmy runs really well here and had led a lot. So did I and we knew both of us had good cars. It was one of those deals where either I was gonna win or we both were gonna wreck, because I wasn't gonna let him pass me. We've had a lot of motor problems with our organization this whole year. We lost our engine builder at the end of last season, we had a lot of regrouping to do and at the same time we were switching over to Pontiac. It was quite a bit to do for our team. We've had three different engine builders this year, but now we've got Lloyd McClure with Lloyd Engines. When you get down to Daytona and Talladega especially, the motor is very, very important. It's the main ingredient here. Most of all of the guys have good aerodynamic packages and everybody has got just about the same set- up and the cars are pretty much even at these tracks. It comes down to who has a good restrictor plate motor package.

FORMER NASCAR Busch Series driver Shawna Robinson will share her expertise when she returns to the track as pit reporter for TNN Motorsports' live coverage of the Western Auto 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at 4 p.m. Saturday from I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo.

DOUG HEVERON (No. 52 ACDelco Chevrolet) -- I'm happy (to be in Ken Schrader's car after team owner Charlie Henderson temporarily shut down his Food Country USA team, which Heveron had driven the full season for, due to lack of sponsorship). Jimmy Horton had to run some dirt races this weekend and couldn't be here. I'd been trying to get with Kenny Schrader and I got hooked up with him Monday night. This is the best opportunity I've ever had in a Busch car. I want to thank ACDelco and Kenny. I just hope to make the best of it. I will have to sit down with Kenny and see what races he wants to run and see if maybe we can do something. We'll just have to wait and see what happens after this weekend. We've only had a couple of laps -- we had some carburetor problems -- but we got it fixed (before qualifying) and we've picked it up a little bit. We'll just have to wait and see how it goes this weekend.

DAVID GREEN (No. 95 Caterpillar Chevrolet) -- This is just as important as any other race -- it pays the same amount of points and you've got to look at it that way. At Talladega, there are 40- something race cars that can win this race. A lot of things can happen, so that's the only thing that worries me. But, it's the same for everybody. You just try to qualify as good as you can and get a buddy or two out there to draft with you and you're okay. But, if you don't have that, it can be a long, long day. Here, you've got to get with the right person and hopefully, you can draft to the front. It doesn't matter if it's Mark Martin, Randy LaJoie or Jeff Green -- you've got to find that guy that's willing to work with you and stick with him and hopefully you can be buddies until the race is over. I'm going to call on little brother and ask for some brotherly help. His car is only as good as who is helping him and mine is the same way. So, maybe between the two of us, we can help each other.

RANDY LaJOIE (No. 74 FINA Chevrolet) -- We've got 10 races to go and I'm looking forward to two or three more wins. I'm having a good time. We're not running that good (this weekend). This is the same car we had at Daytona. We didn't do anything to it since then (season-opening Goody's Headache Powder 300). It's probably a top 10 race car, but you can't expect to go any faster if you don't do any work to it. Obviously, a lot of people have worked on their cars since Daytona, but we haven't. We've got a good race car and when race time comes, we should be able to get up front. We've got a good history here. I enjoy this race track, it's been good to me and I'm looking forward to Saturday because I know we're going to run good. I'm going to draft with whoever is going to take me to the front. It doesn't matter until the last five laps -- you just stay in line and try not to make any mistakes.

STEVE GRISSOM (opened season with victory at Daytona, but currently unemployed) -- Right now, we are just talking to some people, but we don't have anything for sure. It could be this close (holding thumb and index finger eighth-inch apart) or this far (holding arms wide open). Hopefully, before too long we can get something. I would like to stay in Winston Cup and get a full-time ride there. From that, we maybe could run some limited Busch races. It's kind of hard to say. I have talked to some people and there's a race her and a race there, but the problem is Diamond Ridge won't release me from my contract, so I can't drive. It's kind of like -- well, here we are, just hanging out at the race track.

JOE VARDE (Currently leads the IMSA Endurance Challenge Grand Sports class standings, but seen in the Talladega BGN garage) -- I'm up in Charlotte working with a Busch team, but we don't have a car here. We ran three races this year (with driver Stanton Barrett): Atlanta, where we came in fifth; Darlington (32nd); and we crashed out at Charlotte in qualifying, but ran good. Now, we put the team away for a little while and are regrouping a little before we come back a little slower. I'm going to run the Watkins Glen Busch Busch North race on the Bud at the Glen weekend (Aug. 10-11) to get the guys out of the shop a little bit. I'll drive the car (beacuse he has more road racing experience). We're kind of doing it as a fun deal -- nothing real serious.

TNN NOTES NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Trucks the topic on RaceTalk With Eli Gold July 27. Successful NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Jack Sprague and Jimmy Hensley join host Eli Gold live Saturday at 7 p.m. (Eastern). The one-hour episode will originate from I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo., following the Western Auto 200. The public is invited to attend, call-in questions to 1-888-CALLELI or send questions/comments via the internet at www.racetalk.com.

HUMMINBIRD FISHFINDER 500K BUSCH POLE AWARD QUALIFYING

JOE NEMECHEK (No. 87 BellSouth Mobility Chevrolet) -- Last year when we came here Jeff Purvis pretty much whipped the whole field (winning the pole), when we thought we'd have something for him there. So we came here and did a lot of testing and made the car go fast. It's the same car we sat on the outside of the front row with at Daytona, but it got wrecked there. We had to put new front and rear clips and a new body on it. It's just a fast car. It (pole- winning lap) was pretty hairy -- right on the edge of being loose. To go around Daytona and Talladega the car has got to be right on the edge. It might be scary but that's the only way to go fast. There were a few times I didn't know if I was going to make it around the corner. But, we did a pretty good lap. You just can't say enough about our whole race team. They have a lot of knowledge we've worked real hard to try and get the pole here. We've been on the outside pole here a couple of times and on the outside at Daytona two or three times and we just couldn't seem to get the pole. We did a lot of work when we came here and tested about a month ago. I think we figured some things out and hopefully it will carry over to the (NASCAR Winston Cup) Burger King car on Friday. We were trying to get the cars to handle good and when we got here it just wasn't handling right. If you can't go around here wide open, you can't go fast.

JEFF PURVIS (No. 4 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet) -- We were disappointed with our run. We thought we would run quite a bit quicker than that, but we never expected to run as fast as Nemechek. We came down here and tested and found out about where we were going to be, but I'm suprised at just how fast the speed was. This is about what I ran when I won the pole here last year. We will just have to wait and race them now.

KEVIN RAY (No. 2 Phoenix Construction/Zack's Chevrolet) -- We're really disappointed with our run. We've been struggling with this car and we are going to change the engine in the morning. We were down here testing last week and we've just got to get it going quicker. We didn't have time to change the motor after practice so we'll just have to wait and see how the new motor does.

PHIL PARSONS (No. 10 ChannelLock Tools Chevrolet) -- We had just two laps of practice this morning. This is a brand new body and my hat's off to my crew. We've really worked hard on this car. We had a really good car at Daytona and we thought we could make it better so we had a new body put on it. The car got a little bit warm because with the lack of practice we really didn't know how much tape we could get away. We probably put a little too much on it. We looked like we were going to be up front so I really went after it in the second lap and we hope the motor is okay.

DICK TRICKLE (No. 64 DURALUBE Chevrolet) -- We had a good car and our whole crew did a super job. In turn four, I bottomed out something terrible. I think we lost a couple of tenths and that would've put me up in the field. I told some folks that I was going to make the top five today and we did just that.

CHAD LITTLE (No. 23 John Deere Pontiac) -- I thought our run was pretty good. It was a good lap and it was about what we kind of expected. The car has been running good since we got it off the trailer. The kind of year we've had so far this year, just to qualify here is a bonus. It's been kind of a struggle this year. We've made a lot of changes over the winter, going from Ford to Pontiac and with the engine program. We're just trying to get things back in order and this is where we need to be.

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