Skinner Wins NAPA Auto Parts 500 Pole

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FONTANA, Calif. -- Mike Skinner is a little frustrated right now and even winning another pole wasn't enough to soothe his wounded spirit.

Skinner, considered by many the best current Winston Cup driver who has not won a race, outdueled Jimmy Spencer and Ricky Rudd on Friday to win the pole for Sunday's NAPA Auto Parts 500 at California Speedway.

"I'd trade it right now for a good finish," the Northern California native said.

Skinner earned the fifth pole of his career, and first since last September in Richmond, with a lap of 186.061 mph on the 2-mile, high-banked oval.

More important, he put himself in position for a shot at becoming the 10th different winner in as many races this season, as well as ending his personal string of 119 races without a victory.

"I'd never thought I'd be this far in my Cup career without winning a points race," Skinner said.

Asked how he feels about nine winners already this year, Skinner said, "It's time for us to have a 10th."

In three previous races at the new Southern California track - 60 miles east of Los Angeles - each winner has come from the top five starters.

"I don't know that that means very much," Skinner said. "The guy who starts 42nd, if he gets his car hooked up, he'll be the man to beat. Now that we've got the car in the race, we can concentrate on making it better in race trim."

Skinner came close to the coveted first win last month in Atlanta, dominating the race before a blown engine took him out while leading with 20 laps remaining. Two weeks ago in Talladega, he finished a career-best second to Jeff Gordon after making what he considered a mistake with six laps to go by following pole-winner Jeremy Mayfield up high instead of staying with Gordon on the low side of the track.

"If you're not in the hunt, you work harder to get in it," Skinner explained. "If you're in the hunt and you don't win, yeah, that's pretty frustrating. It would be less frustrating if we weren't in contention so often and have so many stupid things happen to us."

Spencer was second at 185.979, followed by Rudd at 185.830, Ward Burton at 185.558, Winston Cup points leader Mark Martin at 185.486, rookie Scott Pruett at 185.204 and three-time Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, Spencer's teammate, at 185.014.

Among the seven fastest qualifiers, Martin and Burton are the only winners this year.

The runner-up's Ford was just 0.017 seconds slower than Skinner's Chevrolet on Friday.

"When you get that close you're upset because, naturally, you want to be on the pole," Spencer said. "We just bobbled a little bit in (turns) three and four. That little bit probably cost us the pole, but man, this year we've been worrying about if we were going to make races."

Spencer, who has struggled most of the season, gave credit to his Carter-Haas Racing crew for rebuilding the team's Ford chassis in the past few weeks.

"I got down on the guys in the shop and told them they weren't doing the job I thought they needed to do," he said. "I've got to tip my hat to them because they've finally done some good work and built some really good race cars."

The top 23 drivers qualified faster than the previous track qualifying record of 185.753 set by Greg Sacks in 1997.

"Tires are obviously a big thing - Goodyear keeps bringing better tires," Skinner said. "And we keep making more horsepower and the teams just keep building better cars."


NAPA Auto Parts 500 Qualifying Results

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