BUSCH: Daytona Qualifying Story

McLaughlin off to good start in '98 Shawn A. Akers NASCAR Online DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 10, 1998) There's only one thing on Mike McLaughlin's mind in 1998 -- winning a NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division championship. Simply ...

McLaughlin off to good start in '98 Shawn A. Akers NASCAR Online

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 10, 1998) There's only one thing on Mike McLaughlin's mind in 1998 -- winning a NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division championship. Simply nothing else will do.

The driver of the No. 34 Goulds Pumps Chevrolet took a step in the right direction on Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway by winning the Bud Pole Award for Saturday's NAPA Auto Parts 300.

McLaughlin toured the 2.5-mile trioval at a speed of 190.134 mph to take the top starting spot for Saturday's season-opener. He was the only driver of 56 who attempted to qualify who broke the 190 mph barrier.

The Bud Pole was the fourth of McLaughlin's NASCAR Busch Series career and second straight overall. He won the pole for last year's season finale Jiffy Lube Miami 300 at Homestead.

"To start the season with a pole is always good," said McLaughlin, who'll start alongside Joe Nemechek on the front row. "We just need to run good here. I've never finished this race where we've been competitive. Things have put us out of the race. We're looking to turn that around this year.

"I'm very happy for everybody involved. There's a lot of effort that goes into qualifying. We probably spend too much time working on a setup just to go for two laps, but everybody feels like they've accomplished something in winning the pole. This place, you need a slick race car with a lot of horsepower and we've got that package."

McLaughlin has finished in the top-10 in points in the NASCAR Busch Series the last three seasons, including fourth last year behind Champion Randy LaJoie, Todd Bodine and Steve Park. This year, he's gunning to knock LaJoie off his perch.

"We've been shooting for the championship for the last four years," McLaughlin said. "We feel that we need some more consistency within Team Goulds, and we've worked on that in the off-season also. It's just a matter of seeing who's done their homework.

"Obviously the BACE team is a very strong team. Randy LaJoie is a great race car driver. He's going to be tough. We're going to have to work awful hard, but we're out there to give him a run for his money."

McLaughlin was one of the earlier drivers to qualify Tuesday in a round that took nearly two hours and 45 minutes. Stars like LaJoie, Buckshot Jones, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Purvis were among the last to go, making McLaughlin sweat it out to see if he would win the Bud Pole.

"It's tough. You don't know if everybody's holding back," McLaughlin said. "There were several cars that I felt would have run quicker. You're happy because you cut a good lap, it's the best you've run, but yet you don't want to get too excited because it's more heartbreaking when somebody does beat you. You just kinda sit there and wait, wait, wait. It seems like it takes forever, but when it's all over, it sure does feel good."

Positions one through 25 were determined on Tuesday. Second-round Bud Beer Qualifying is scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. EST.

Nemechek turned in a fast lap of 188.525 mph in the No. 87 BellSouth Chevrolet. His reaction wasn't nearly as positive as McLaughlin's.

"We're actually disappointed with that run," he said. "We just weren't fast enough."

Earnhardt Jr., the third-to-last qualifier, blistered the track at 188.139 mph to take the third spot, giving his famous father -- and his car owner -- a lot to be proud of.

"Our lap went real well -- we don't hold anything back -- we don't sandbag," Earnhardt Jr. said. "These guys (his crew) made my job real easy. This is a good way to start out, on our way to a championship."

Purvis qualified fourth (187.895) and Jones was fifth (187.696). Rounding out the top-10 were: Ken Schrader (187.356), Matt Kenseth (186.834), Bobby Hillin (186.765), Tony Stewart (186.525), and Dave Blaney (186.521). Blaney was attempting to qualify for his first career NASCAR Busch Series event.

LaJoie, who hasn't been satisfied with his No. 74 FINA Chevrolet since it was unloaded off the truck, was 35th-fastest on the first of his two laps, but improved to 22nd-quickest with a lap of 184.923 mph.

Notables who failed to make the top 25 were: Mark Martin, 26th (184.794), Phil Parsons, 31st (184.298), Elton Sawyer, 37th (183.584), Tim Fedewa, 45th (182.615), Jason Keller, 47th(182.567), and Dale Jarrett, 49th (181.973).

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Todd Bodine , Jason Keller , Ken Schrader , Joe Nemechek , Elton Sawyer , Jeff Purvis , Phil Parsons , Dave Blaney , Steve Park. , Mark Martin