Irvan on Pole for Brickyard 400
31 July 1997INDIANAPOLIS, IN - Ernie Irvan ripped off a fast lap of 177.736 mph around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway to capture the pole position for Saturday's running of the NASCAR Winston Cup Brickyard 400.
Irvan's trip around the 2.5-mile speedway took 50.637 seconds to complete and shattered the track record of 176.419 mph (51.015 seconds) set by Jeff Gordon on August 1, 1996. The top four qualifiers for Saturday's event eclipsed the mark set by Gordon last year.
The Robert Yates Racing driver has been distracted this week as his thoughts are with his mother who is in a hospital in Concord, NC. "My mother knows that racing is in my heart," said an emotional Irvan, "and racing is in her heart. There's nothing I can do at the hospital so the best thing I can do right now is win the pole."
Starting alongside Irvan is Joe Nemechek in the #42 BellSouth Mobility Chevrolet. Two pole positions (at California Speedway and Pocono Raceway) along with two outside front row starting positions within the last six races has led to the nickname "Front Row Joe" for the Team SABCO driver. A 177.550 mph lap completed in 50.690 seconds allowed Nemechek to live up to his moniker in Indianapolis.
"That was an awesome lap," exclaimed Nemechek. "I hit the rumble strips in turn one and scrubbed a little bit there but the car was on a rail. I don't know where I could make it up right now. I've got to congratulate Ernie. We've knocked him off (the pole) a couple of times. Congratulations to him for getting it. If he can beat me, he can have it."
Irvan's Robert Yates Racing teammate, Dale Jarrett, will start right behind Ernie on the inside of the second row. Jarrett recorded a lap time of 50.706 seconds at an average speed of 177.494.
"It was a good lap," said Jarrett after climbing from his #88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford. "I got a little conservative on my line getting into turn one and that hurt me a little bit. I got onto the (rumble) strips there a little bit. It didn't hurt my exit any, I just probably left a little on the table."
Darrell Waltrip, held the provisional pole for a short time during the qualifying session, but will start his chrome-colored Parts America Chevrolet fourth on the grid.
Richard Childress Racing teammates Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner will fill out the third row.
"The car's been good in practice and testing," said Earnhardt who will take the green flag from the fifth-place starting position. "Larry (crew chief, McReynolds) has been a little nervous because we haven't been as fast as we need to be. I knew what the car would do and we've just been kind of sneaking up on things. We tested the tires and we felt like this was the best set of tires. We saved them for qualifying and I saved myself for the best lap. Me and Skinner are right there together. Maybe be can finish that way one and two."
Fifty-one cars attempted to qualify with the top twenty-five locked in for Saturday's race. Second round qualifying to determine the rest of the field is scheduled for Friday, August 1 at 1:30 pm (CDT).
Among those who failed to qualify through today's time trials are defending Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte, Penske Racing South driver Rusty Wallace, rookie of the year contender Jeff Green, and Geoff Bodine, who continues to struggle through the 1997 season.
Lori Vizza - The Auto Channel