News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Waltrip races to pole at Talladega

By Mike Harris
Associated Press Writer

TALLADEGA — Michael Waltrip led a charge of “go-or-go-home” entries to the top of the grid Saturday in qualifying for the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The top 35 cars in NASCAR Nextel Cup owners points are guaranteed a spot in the 43-car field each week and it was the drivers who had to make it on speed and worked strictly on qualifying in Friday’s practice who dominated in time trials for Sunday’s race, the superspeedway debut of the Car of Tomorrow.

Waltrip, who has struggled through a generally miserable season, managed to make the race lineup for the third straight week, but only the 11th time this season, as he earned his fourth career pole and first since June 2005 at Pocono.

He turned a lap of
189.070 mph on the 2.66-mile oval, with Dave Blaney second at 188.838.

“I felt confident yesterday we would make the race,” Waltrip said.

“I wasn’t thinking about the pole. Honestly, it’s more important to me that we have all three (Michael Waltrip Racing) cars in the top eight.”

All of those eight were drivers who had to qualify, including former Formula One champion and Indy 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve, making his Cup debut, and Waltrip’s teammates David Reutimann and Dale Jarrett.

Rookie A.J. Allmendinger, Boris Said, Scott Riggs, Sam Hornish Jr., another open-wheel driver and Indy 500 winner hoping to make his Cup debut, and Jeremy Mayfield qualified ninth, 10th, 11th, 13th and 15th, respectively, but were bumped out of the field by drivers in the top 35 in points.

It was a big day for Toyota, which has had little to crow about in its first season in Cup.

Waltrip, Blaney and defending race winner Brian Vickers swept the first three positions for Toyota and Camrys took six of the top eight spots, although Jarrett, who was eighth, will have to start 43rd under NASCAR’s somewhat strange qualifying format.

Jeff Gordon, a three-time Talladega winner, including the April race this year, was 45th fastest of the 51 qualifiers and will start 34th. But he said the qualifying results weren’t surprising.

“This is just what we expected because those guys who had to qualify spent their time working on speed, while we were working on race setup,” the four-time Cup champion said.

“They’re taking the risk, putting a lot into it and we’ve given up some speed to get ready for the race. I think we’ll be just fine in the race.”

Gordon is second to reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson heading into the fourth of 10 races in the Chase for the championship.

The cars were impounded by NASCAR after qualifying and will have to start the race the way they ran Saturday.

Waltrip, who said he got plenty of drafting practice here last month in testing, wasn’t concerned about that.

“I told my guys last night, “If we get in, we’ll have a chance to win,” the two-time Daytona 500 winner said. “I think we’ll definitely be ready to go.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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