Kenny Wallace takes Goody's 500 Pole
THERE'S A WALLACE ON THE POLE AT MARTINSVILLE -- BUT THIS TIME IT'S KENNY! By Lori Vizza MARTINSVILLE, VA-Kenny Wallace was ecstatic following Busch Pole qualifying today at Martinsville Speedway. He had every reason to be. The 33-year old driver from St. Louis, MO had just captured his first career Winston Cup pole with a lap around the 0.526-mile Martinsville Speedway in 20.153 seconds. "We did it!" yelled Wallace as the last car on the track failed to unseat him from the inside position of the front row. But amid the celebrations, the hugs, and the high fives, Wallace was quick to acknowledge a fallen comrade. "This is for John Nemechek. He was my buddy," he said proudly, remembering the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver who lost his life after suffering injuries sustained in a crash during Truck Series event last month. Ironically, it was John's older brother Joe, who Wallace had to beat in order to secure the number one starting position. "I was sitting there and I kinda felt like I might get the pole, because I had a gut feeling. I feel a little sorry for Joe, but I really needed this. I know what Joe has to feel like, but I've been pretty intense here lately." Joe Nemechek's lap of 20.204 seconds (93.724 mph) was enough to earn him the outside pole starting position. "I'm a little disappointed," said Nemechek, "but my hat's off to Kenny Wallace. That was a great lap. At least we know we've got a good car for the race, and starting on the front row at Martinsville ain't too shabby." Wallace believes that the key to his pole-winning run was the high groove around the race track which he says he learned by watching fellow competitor Ricky Craven, who won the Busch Pole for this event in 1996. "The key at Martinsville to winning the race is to stay right on the curb," the driver of the #81 Square D Ford explained. "But the problem with getting a quick lap at Martinsville is that you have to slow up to go around the curb. This morning it was pushing a little bit. I ran in really hard and the car slid up, and when it slid up it was still turning. so I picked up the throttle and my car came off the high line and it kept the motor running. Instead of me following the curb and letting the motor down and dragstripping it up off the corner, I was able to keep the rpms up. That was my theory behind the high line, being able to go in hard and yet keeping the motor running coming off the corner." Geoff Bodine will start his #7 QVC Ford Thunderbird third on the grid after turning a lap of 20.241 seconds (93.553 mph) while Jeff Gordon will line up the #24 DuPont Automotive Refinishes Chevy fourth (20.287 seconds, 93.341 mph). Ricky Rudd had brake trouble early in practice today and missed most of the session while the Tide crew made repairs. It worked out pretty well for the Chesapeake, VA native as he wheeled the #10 Ford around the track in 20.312 seconds (93.226 mph) -- good enough for fifth fastest of the day. "We got behind in practice," said Rudd. We had a brake problem we had to work out. We got that worked out and we had about 50 minutes left in practice. But I can't complain. We're happy." Mark Martin had a close encounter with the outside wall as he exited turn four on his second qualifying lap. As Martin negotiated the fourth turn, he apparently was a little too hot as the right side of the #6 Valvoline Thunderbird scuffed the wall. The resulting 20.555-second lap was not good enough to lock Martin into a starting position and he will decide tomorrow whether to attempt to requalify. The Roush Racing driver didn't feel like the incident did significant damage to his car. "It's not hurt," he said. "We just scraped the wall a little bit. I was going for it on the second lap there. The first lap wasn't good enough, so I was going for it. I got a little crossed up going into (turn) 1 and still tried to pull something out there." Sterling Marlin was unable to make a qualifying attempt when his Morgan-McClure team couldn't quite get his backup car ready in time. Marlin wrecked his primary Chevrolet on the frontstretch during today's practice session. The 93.961 mph lap recorded by Wallace was enough to break the old event record of 93.887 mph (20.169 seconds) set by Geoff Bodine on April 23, 1993. Forty-six drivers attempted to qualify with the fastest twenty-five locked into starting positions for Sunday's 500-mile event. Second round qualifying to round out the possible 43-car field is scheduled for Saturday, April 19. Forty-five minutes after facing the press for his post-race interview, Kenny Wallace was still bouncing off the walls as he joked and laughed with reporters. "Why can't I be happy?" he exclaimed. "I beat Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon. If I can't have a little satisfaction out of that why the hell am I racing?"