FONTANA, CA - Steve Park, in the No. 1 DEI Chevrolet, scored his third career pole and first since Homestead in November of 2000. Park, who was involved in a life-threatening crash during a Darlington Busch race in 2001, sat out the remainder of...
FONTANA, CA - Steve Park, in the No. 1 DEI Chevrolet, scored his third career pole and first since Homestead in November of 2000. Park, who was involved in a life-threatening crash during a Darlington Busch race in 2001, sat out the remainder of 2001 and missed the first four races of 2002 recovering from a severe head injury that leaves him to this day with slurred speech and headaches.
Park spent most of last season readjusting himself to his Winston Cup ride, and finished 33rd in series points. Swirling rumors in the garage in recent weeks have caused speculation that Park was close to losing his ride at DEI.
"All year long, we haven't really qualified good at all," said Park. "I think the press sometimes thinks that we don't know that. They have to remind us that we're not qualifying good. We worked extremely hard to make sure we qualified good.
"I think people get tired of hearing, 'I want to thank the guys back at the shop.' But we have 250 employees. So, if you don't think this is a team sport, it truly is."
Park, who was good right off the truck at Fontana posting the second fastest lap in morning practice with a 186.504 mph, backed it up in his qualifying session with a 186.838 mph.
Park was thrilled with his lap, and greeted the media with a gleaming ear- to-ear smile and his new Pennzoil temporary tattoo.
"How ya'll doing!" Steve asked media members. "Man, I haven't seen you guys in a year and a half!"
Bill Elliott had the second fastest lap with a qualifying speed of 186.824 mph and will start on the outside of Park. It is Elliott's sixth top-ten starting spot this year.
"I was tickled to death with what we ran," said Elliott. "I knew Steve was quick and had the car to beat. Unfortunately, we didn't put it all together. We were close. Right now my main concern is to come in the morning and get it where we can run well on Sunday afternoon. That's my main goal."
"We can joke about this a lot," Elliott continued. "But, Steve (Park) has been through a lot, and I'm really proud of what he did here today. He's had a tough year. I can look at my season and say I've had a lot of ups and downs. I have won a lot of poles. We came from a long way from where we practiced and where we qualified. I'm proud for him for what he's done."
Reigning Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart will start third. This will be Stewart's fourth top-ten start in the last five races at California.
Defending pole sitter Ryan Newman posted the fastest practice lap this morning with a 186.591 mph qualified fourth. Newman is now up to eight top-ten starts in 2003, more than any other Winston Cup driver.
"I messed up getting into turn three and that cost us some time," said Newman. "The lap should have been better. I just screwed up a little bit. I just didn't get I wanted. I guess that happens every once and awhile, but I wish it hadn't happened today because we had a good shot at the pole.
It was a good effort for the team. This is a good track, and I'm really looking forward to Sunday."
Elliott Sadler in the No. 38 Ford rounds out the top five, scoring his fifth top-ten start this season.
There are two Chevrolets, two Dodges and one Ford in the top-five starting line-up. This is the fifth Bud pole of the year for Chevy.
Jack Sprague in the No. 0 Pontiac is the highest starting rookie in 12th. Failing to make the show are Hideo Fukuyama and Kerry Earnhardt.