BUSCH: Nazareth Pole Story

Earnhardt Jr. grabs Bud Pole at Nazareth Dave Rodman NAZARETH, Pa. (May 16, 1998) Dale Earnhardt Jr. knocked his Dale Earnhardt, Inc. "teammate" Ron Hornaday off the Bud Pole Saturday afternoon when he grabbed the top starting spot for...

Earnhardt Jr. grabs Bud Pole at Nazareth Dave Rodman

NAZARETH, Pa. (May 16, 1998) Dale Earnhardt Jr. knocked his Dale Earnhardt, Inc. "teammate" Ron Hornaday off the Bud Pole Saturday afternoon when he grabbed the top starting spot for Sunday's $426,824 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division First Union 200 at Nazareth Speedway.

Earnhardt Jr. became the first driver to win two Bud Poles in the first 11 races this season when he turned a lap in 28.003 seconds, an average speed of 128.558 mph, in the No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet.

Hornaday made a good impression in the first of five races he plans to run for ST Motorsports owner Tad Geschickter when he qualified the No. 59 Kingsford/Matchlight Chevrolet second, just .103 seconds behind his 23-year-old teammate.

However, the team's good fortune lasted less than three hours after Hornaday's qualifying time was disallowed due to "fuel irregularities." In a regular test of the top-five cars' fuel, the No. 59's sample "did not meet the benchmark" of the fuel supplied at the track. The team was forced to take a car owner's provisional starting spot, but as part of the penalty Hornaday will line up 43rd.

Tim Fedewa, who scored his only career victory here in 1995, moved up to second after qualifying at 127.945 mph in the Kleenex Chevrolet. Elton Sawyer had a shot at the pole when he ran the third-quickest lap, at the time, in his No. 38 Barbasol Ford, but he crashed on his second lap and settled for third-quickest at 127.877 mph. Stanton Barrett was fourth with a lap of 127.864 mph in the No. 40 ChannelLock Chevrolet and defending Bud Pole and race winner Elliott Sadler, who ran 127.687 mph in the Phillips 66 Chevrolet, was fifth.

Rounding out the top-10 in the 43-car field are Matt Kenseth, series point leader Mike McLaughlin, Curtis Markham, Joe Bessey and Glenn Allen, who will have to drop to the rear of the field after the pace lap begins due to going to a backup car.

"I was worried about going to tracks that I have no experience on and not qualifying well," said Earnhardt Jr., whose modesty belies his on-track form. "If you don't qualify well, you're not going to race well unless you have a good car. Last week, we had a car that was fast enough to put a straight-away on them, but once you put it back there on the lead lap in 10th spot, there was nowhere to go. But it makes you feel good to win the pole on a track you've never raced before because that's what's going to help us win these points."

It was a good day for substitutes on the oddly-configured one-mile oval. Hornaday, who runs on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in DEI's No. 16 NAPA Brakes Chevrolet, was one of four drivers who "stood-in" on Saturday for NASCAR Busch Series regulars. Three of the four -- Hornaday, Barrett and Markham -- originally qualified in the top-10 while Jeff Green was 15th after Hornaday's penalty, subbing for injured Jimmy Foster in the No. 50 Dr Pepper Ford.

Hornaday, who was pressed into service when regular ST driver Robert Pressley had to be in Concord, N.C., to participate in The Winston all-star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, battled a loose race car to the pole as the 15th car on the track.

Thirteen drivers later, his truck team owner's son bumped him back to second spot. They spent most of the rest of the qualifying session close together, chatting with ACDelco crew chief Tony Eury on pit road, until their front row domination was secure -- for the short term.

Surprisingly, Earnhardt's run was no surprise. He was second-quickest in both one-hour morning practices, trailing Kenseth in the first and Markham in the second. Hornaday, on the other hand, rose to the occasion in qualifying after running the ninth-quickest lap in the first practice and the 16th-best in the second session.

"I think the track is slower than it was this morning because of the heat," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We didn't make any changes (on the car). I like the track. It's my first time here at Nazareth. The crew knew what to put under the car to make it go fast. I just need to get used to the track, and get used to driving the car the way they want me to drive it.

"I knew we had a shot at it (the pole). I knew we weren't going to be able to duplicate what we ran in practice, but I thought we'd be all right.

"Yeah, I consider myself a good qualifier. I looked at the statistics for this year and the past two or three years with Steve Park and Jeff Green -- and the team seems to be starting better this year. We have a lot more top-ten starts and I think one more top-five start this year. I don't know if the team has improved on their qualifying set-ups, or if they're making the proper adjustments for qualifying to suit the car, or maybe I'm just crazy enough this early in my career."

Ironically, Earnhardt's first two career poles have come on two of the series' tougher tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway and Nazareth, which features uphill and downhill elevation changes, camber changes and three unique corner structures.

The race track caught no fewer than three teams. Allen crashed exiting Turn 2 on his second lap and damaged the left side and left front of his car badly enough to go to a backup despite qualifying 11th on his single lap.

Sawyer, who said "I wrecked three times but only hit something once" when he spun coming off Turn 2, also on his second lap, flattened the right rear corner of his Barbasol Ford but drove it back to the pits. After the crew straightened the car Sawyer was ninth-fastest in the final half-hour practice session so decided to race the same machine.

Raybestos Rookie candidate Blaise Alexander took the green flag and crashed exiting Turn 4 on his first qualifying lap. The team straightened the left side of the Rescue Chevrolet and Alexander was set to line up 36th.

All 43 cars signed-into the garage area made the starting field, which was designed for 44 cars including provisional starters.

Eight drivers qualified as Busch North Series Grand National Division entrants for the combination event for the NASCAR Touring Division. Ted Christopher, one of two drivers who will start both the First Union 200 and First Union 100 Featherlite Modified Series race for the NASCAR Touring Division, was the highest-placed Busch North driver in 16th in the Whelen Engineering Chevrolet.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Steve Park , Jeff Green , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Mike McLaughlin , Blaise Alexander , Stanton Barrett , Elliott Sadler