Talladega Friday Notes

DieHard 500 Friday Notebook By Dave Rodman TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 25, 1998) Notes and quotes following Bud Pole Award Qualifying for the DieHard 500 Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. Multi-team owner Jack Roush thought his Fords had had...

DieHard 500 Friday Notebook By Dave Rodman

TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 25, 1998) Notes and quotes following Bud Pole Award Qualifying for the DieHard 500 Friday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Multi-team owner Jack Roush thought his Fords had had trouble in qualifying for the Daytona 500, where Johnny Benson failed to make the race and teammates Jeff Burton, Chad Little, Mark Martin and Ted Musgrave struggled.

Roush, who had six cars in the Bud Pole Qualifying line Friday for the DieHard 500 at Talladega, could not have predicted what he would see on the 2.66-mile trioval. Only one of his cars, Burton's, was locked-into the top-25 of the 43-car field after the initial session.

Little, who was the only one of the six and one of only four Ford drivers using a Thunderbird, was 29th; Musgrave was 35th; defending race winner Martin 44th; Benson 46th; and newcomer Matt Kenseth, who is trying to make his NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut, was mired in 50th in the black No. 60 Truck Centers of America Taurus.

"If I knew (what to do to gain speed) I would have done it," Musgrave said. "Everybody's trying real hard, but we're bewildered now, Mark, Jeff and I. we're all just kind of scratching our heads."

Roush is attempting to become the first car owner to have six totally owned cars in one series race since Carl Kiekhaefer accomplished the feat on the beach/road course in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1956.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series cars presented an odd sight as their qualifying set-ups had the tails of the cars squatting to the point that the tops of the tires weren't visible behind the fenders. "Running low" had some dire consequences for some, however.

"I bottomed out real, real bad," said Rusty Wallace of his 23rd-place qualifying run. "It was hitting the flywheel so darn hard it just kept stopping the motor. I ruined one flywheel already -- it looks like I'm on my second right now."

Steve Park was wearing a huge grin in the garage as he quipped that his broken right leg was "50 percent healed" and well ahead of his projected recovery of up to six months from the multiple injuries he suffered in a crash in practice for the at Atlanta. The rookie also revealed that modern technology would allow him to serve as the grand marshal for Sunday's CARQUEST Spring Sizzler Featherlite Modified Series race for the NASCAR Touring Division.

Park will give the command "Gentlemen, start your engines" by telephone. The production was arranged by ABC Sports commentator Jack Arute, who is part of the management hierarchy at the family-owned Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Conn.

Park, who was a Featherlite Modified Series star prior to joining the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division in 1997, scored a best finish of fourth in seven Spring Sizzlers.

Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Kevin Lepage has a new sponsor on board his No. 91 LJ Racing Chevrolet -- the Dare County (N.C.) Tourism Board -- but he's on the bubble heading into Bud Second-Round Qualifying on Saturday. He sits 36th in an extremely close lineup, but is confident if he can make it out of qualifying.

"We're here with two Winston Cup restrictor plates under my belt now and a little bit of confidence," Lepage said. "Hopefully, I will have a few more people to partner with in the draft, since I am not a complete rookie at these tracks. This is the same car we qualified 20th with in Daytona and we were drafting really well until we had an engine problem. All we want to do this weekend is make the race and run all the laps. If we can accomplish those two things the finish will take care of itself."

Dare County is located along the coast of North Carolina. For more information on Dare County, call 1-888-SEE-DARE.

In 1997, Martin won his second consecutive race and established the fastest speed ever for a NASCAR event at an average speed of 188.354 mph. Dale Earnhardt finished a very close second to Martin. Bobby Labonte, who is the 1998 Bud Pole winner, 1997 pole-sitter John Andretti and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top-five.

The race was also run caution free, a first in Talladega history.

Bill Elliott was the last driver to win the DieHard 500 from the pole. He accomplished the feat in 1985. Elliott qualified 17th Friday in the No. 94 McDonald's Ford.

He was outshone by one teammate, Raybestos Rookie candidate Jerry Nadeau, who logged his best qualifying run of the year in 12th. His third team driver, NASCAR Busch Series veteran Dennis Setzer, was only 41st in the McDonald's McRib Thunderbird.

Morgan Shepherd will replace the injured Mike Skinner for the second straight week in the No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet. Team spokesman Bob Moore said Shepherd may see a third straight start in the California 500 presented by NAPA next weekend as well.

Moore said Skinner has a doctor's appointment on Monday at which time a decision will be made on his participation in the May 3 event.

"The biggest concern right now is there's still a good bit of discomfort in Mike's right shoulder and in his neck," Moore said. "His broken wrist is healing well."

Rich Bickle was happy to be back in the No. 98 Thorn Apple Valley Ford in relief of an injured Greg Sacks, but was less than thrilled after qualifying 49th of 52 cars on the property.

"I'm running this week and next weekend," Bickle said. "I know they've got good speedway stuff so I'm pretty excited.

"Last week, we had a top-10 car easy, before I got about knocked out of the track by another car, and then the harmonic balancer broke. How often does that happen? Anyway, we passed Earnhardt twice and he finished fourth."

Bickle said things continue to develop in his plans for 10-12 NASCAR Busch Series races in his own cars, as well as three or four NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events in his own truck. The next NASCAR Busch Series event he'll attempt to make will be in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway, while he said he'll run double-duty at the Milwaukee NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Busch Series races in July.

The only time a Pontiac has ever won at Talladega was Richard Petty's win in the 1983 Winston 500.

Bobby Labonte, the Bud Pole winner who possesses a dry sense of humor, cracked "I really appreciate you telling me that," when a reporter made the statement in Labonte's post-qualifying media briefing.

But, Labonte has already begun to rewrite the Pontiac history at Talladega. After all, the last time a Pontiac has won a pole here was some 15 years earlier.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Rich Bickle , Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Steve Park , Mike Skinner , Kevin Lepage , Johnny Benson , Ted Musgrave , Dennis Setzer , Chad Little , Richard Petty , Morgan Shepherd , Jack Roush , Greg Sacks , Mark Martin