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Gordon Grabs Pole Position With Perfect Lap

6 February 1999

Press Conference with this year's front row: Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart
(You must have the free Microsoft Media Player to hear these audio clips.)

Daytona Beach, FL-Jeff Gordon seems to be picking up 1999 where he left off in 1998--winning. The defending Winston Cup Champion grabbed the pole position for the Daytona 500 away from Tony Stewart with what he called "a perfect lap." Gordon, qualifying 57th, saved the best for last and turned a second-lap qualifying time of 46.138 sec for a speed of 195.067 mph. The speed was good enough to lock in Gordon's first pole win for the Daytona 500. A Hollywood scriptwriter could not have written a more dramatic story for qualifying action, as the top spot went to three different drivers before Gordon claimed it.

A warm, sun-drenched Florida day greeted the drivers. Ironically, the warm weather combined with a lack of wind in the latter part of the session would benefit the drivers in the back of the qualifying line. The 12:40 pm start time temperature was 79 degrees. By the end at 2:55 it was up to 84 degrees.

The day started with Miller Lite driver Rusty Wallace, qualifying second, throwing down the gauntlet with a blistering pace of 46.347 sec for a speed of 194.187 mph. Wallace, who had been at or near the top of the speed charts improved his best practice time by a tenth of a second. Wallace commented, "It's the best we've run for the last two months down here. The motor was super strong. Let's just hope it gets us on the front row." Well the day would be a good one for Rusty, for about half the session. After that it was like reading the story about the welcome wagon that runs over the newcomer.

In racing and especially during qualifying, motors like cool conditions. Normally, the hotter ithe temperature, the slower the speed. Today, in spite of the progressively warmer weather, the speeds increased. It was, to say the least, strange. Another factor adding to the conditions was the wind or lack of wind.

Wallace's time held for 28 qualifiers. Then Dale Earnhardt's teammate Mike Skinner in the #31 Lowe's Chevrolet came along and reeled off a time of 46.264sec for a speed of 194.536mph. The cheer from the crowd was so long and sustained that one would have thought that Earnhardt had knocked off Wallace. Before the qualifying effort Skinner said "I feel good about the car, we've tested real good and we are ready to make a run." After the qualifying effort Skinner elaborated that "We ran a .58 or .59 in practice and thought maybe we could run a .45. We picked up half a second from the first lap. The car felt good, but it got a little loose in three and four. I held it on the floor and turned the wheel. It worked out good."

Now it was Skinner's turn to sit on the pole hot seat. For 15 qualifiers the time held until Winston Cup rookie Tony Stewart in the Home Depot Pontiac came along and turned a lap of 46.249sec for a speed of 194.599. It was hard to believe that Stewart could turn a lap that was almost two-tenth's of a second quicker given the warmer conditions. Stewart felt that he benefited from being a later qualifier. "I watched all the guys [from on top of the trailer] and saw how they ran their first and second lap. I kind of changed the way I'd been running since this morning. I kind of threw it [caution] out the window on the first lap to try and make one magical lap for the second lap." Obviously Stewart found the magic.

For the next 11 qualifiers Stewart's time held. Then a guy named Jeff Gordon, who is also, by the way, from Indiana, came along and eclipsed his time by a full tenth of a second. Amazing considering that the air temperature rose two degrees from the time of Stewart's qualifying run to Gordon's attempt. Gordon, who was enthused to say the least commented, "This is very exciting. These guys (the Rainbow Warriors) have worked hard during the off season to give me a good race car." Gordon who was concerned yesterday that qualifying near the end would not be good said "If you want to work it out close to last every week-end, it would be fine by me." Gordon commented that "It was a little nerve-wracking because I saw how fast guys were going. I didn't think we were going to be able to beat Tony, but it was just a perfect lap for a perfect race car today."

So the front-row will be an all-Hoosier affair for the 41st Daytona 500. By the way...winning the Daytona 500 from the pole position has been achieved seven times. Jeff Gordon may just change that stat just like he has done to the rest of the NASCAR history books. We will know in a week.

David Treffer -- The Auto Channel