PRIMESTAR 500 Friday Notebook Dave Rodman - NASCAR Online HAMPTON, Ga. (March 6, 1998) Bud Pole Qualifying Friday for the PRIMESTAR 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway put smiles on the faces of several teams for whom qualifying had not only not been...
PRIMESTAR 500 Friday Notebook Dave Rodman - NASCAR Online
HAMPTON, Ga. (March 6, 1998) Bud Pole Qualifying Friday for the PRIMESTAR 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway put smiles on the faces of several teams for whom qualifying had not only not been a sure thing -- it had yet to be accomplished this season. A pair of drivers whose names had been mentioned in possible shakeups -- due to missing the first three events this season -- went a long way toward turning their teams' fortunes around. Todd Bodine qualified second and earned a Bud Pole Award for ISM Racing while Gary Bradberry locked-in in the 20th spot in the Triad Motorsports Pilot Travel Centers Ford,
While Bodine's crew solved a carburetor problem in between practice and qualifying, Bradberry's single qualifying lap was his only hot lap of the morning.
"Considering we never made one single lap during practice, that's pretty good," said Bradberry of the abbreviated, 45-minute morning practice. "We went out on that first deal and the track was real slick. We came in and then we had an oil leak so we never got to go back out and make a run.
"That was our practice run, that one lap. As it turned out, it was good enough. It's been really tough (not qualifying), but the team has gone through a lot of hard times over the winter and all that."
Among other pleased first-round qualifiers were Wally Dallenbach, who qualified for his second straight event in the No. 46 First Union Chevrolet, in 12th, after missing the first two events of the season. Dallenbach didn't even need a full lap of practice to tell he had a good enough car to make the show.
"We never got to run a full lap in practice," Dallenbach said. "We got a plug check and then we went out for a practice qualifying run and I was coming off turn 4 when Steve Park hit the wall. That was it -- the car was balanced and I told Gary (Grossenbacher, crew chief) that it was going to the mat (in qualifying) and it was going to stay there unless I was about to crash.
"That was as close to flat-out as I've ever run around here. This is what we needed to do to get back on track. Get in the first round every week and then work on going racing."
Drivers Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Ted Musgrave, Bill Elliott, Geoff Bodine and Rusty Wallace participated in a national campaign, "Buckle Up America," that kicked off Friday at AMS.
The program, designed to increase seat belt and safety harness use in passenger vehicles, was also supported by appearances by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, National Highway Traffic Safety Association Administrator Dr. Ricardo Martinez and other government officials. The drivers will make a series of public service announcements urging drivers to "buckle up."
Jeff Green had the same No. 29 Diamond Ridge Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo at AMS that he finished fourth with here at the NAPA 500 season finale last fall. However, on his qualifying lap Green suffered a broken left front suspension piece and consequently set the 50th, and slowest lap, 163.107 mph.
"I hate it because we had a top-15 car," said Green, who is holding his breath and praying for clear weather Saturday. "We qualified seventh with this car last November and finished fourth and we were looking forward to improving on that."
Todd Bodine may consider adopting the "green pepper sauce" motif for a more extended run. This is the second week for Team Tabasco's back and fluorescent green Pontiac, which first appeared at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend during qualifying as a part of a promotional program by McIlhenny Company, makers of Tabasco.
Along with the new car design, Bodine also sported a matching black and green helmet and green fire suit, all tied to the company's Tabasco brand green pepper sauce product in celebration of St. Patrick's Day.
Johnny Benson, who qualified 15th for the PRIMESTAR 500, is the highest-rated driver in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings who has missed a race this season. Benson is 30th in points despite missing the Daytona 500.
Dale Earnhardt is the all-time winningest driver at Atlanta Motor Speedway with eight NASCAR Winston Cup victories at the facility, but he only qualified 30th on Friday.
"I ran near flat-out through 3 and 4 and I thought I had a pretty good lap," he said. "I thought it was fast when I was in the car, but it didn't show up that way on the watch."
Earnhardt owns the race record for both NASCAR Winston Cup events at Atlanta.
History doesn't favor Dale Jarrett this week at Atlanta. Jarrett won last year's PRIMESTAR 500, but no driver has won the race in back-to-back seasons since Cale Yarborough turned the trick in 1968 and 1969.
An impressive sweep of the front row for the PRIMESTAR 500 has Pontiac fans hopeful of breaking an ill streak. While Pontiac drivers have won two of the past five NAPA 500s at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a Pontiac driver hasn't visited Victory Lane in the PRIMESTAR 500 since Bob Burdick won the 1961 event in a Pontiac. Bobby Johns won the inaugural event at Atlanta in a Pontiac in the 1960 PRIMESTAR 500.
Kevin Lepage is counting on help from some friends to get into the PRIMESTAR 500 in Joe Falk's basically unsponsored car, which has received help this season from Pionite decorative laminates.
"First Union helped us out with sponsorship this week and we've got a SABCO motor," Lepage said. "We've got to be in the top-30 in points to have a safe bet of being in the show every week. Teams are going home better financed than we are -- right now we're doing the best we can do with what we have to work with."
Robert Pressley was singing his sponsor's praises following Bud Pole Qualifying and with good reason after a season-best seventh place run.
"These Jasper Engines people bumped it up just a little bit and that horsepower carried us around again," Pressley said. "The 75 car of Rick Mast and Butch Mock have helped us a ton this year and they're the ones getting the credit for this. This car got back from Vegas on Tuesday night, they painted it and brought it here."
Pressley is the only driver attempting to run full programs in both the NASCAR Winston Cup and NASCAR Busch Series.
Rusty Wallace considered himself lucky after he made it back to pit road after a bolt fell out of his front suspension on his warm-up lap in qualifying.
"I pulled out and went down the back straightaway and the left front is all over the place," Wallace said after qualifying 22nd. "They opened the hood, looked and the bolt was gone from the bottom of the left front shock. They put a new bolt in and the thing ran good so I'm happy with it." Jarrett, despite his ragged start that has him sitting 27th in NASCAR Winston Cup points coming into Sunday's PRIMESTAR 500, is the favorite to capture his first NWC championship in 1998, according to 34.6 percent of the respondents in a "Pick the Champion" media contest.
Jarrett tallied 91 of 263 votes cast among national media. Defending series champion Jeff Gordon garnered 58 votes, followed by Mark Martin with 39, Earnhardt with 34 and Terry Labonte with 14. Kirk Shelmerdine, who was Earnhardt's crew chief for four of his seven NASCAR Winston Cup championships and 44 of his 71 NWC race wins, scored his first victory in a major stock car series Friday.
Shelmerdine won the caution-plagued Johnson Industries/Easy Care 300 ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series event, driving Kenneth Appling's unsponsored No. 3 Chevrolet.
"We'd very much like to run six to eight (NASCAR Craftsman) truck races this season," said Shelmerdine, who turns 40 on Sunday and who qualified his first time out for the NCTS race last September at Richmond, Va.
"We'd like to get the proper backing to do it, though. You need all the bullets in your gun when you try to make a NASCAR race. We've got two Chevrolet trucks ready to go and we may try to do some East Coast races. We just need to get the rubber band cranked a little tighter -- the competition in NASCAR demands it."