Wallace Clinches Third Pole Bodine Returns

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Rusty Wallace took advantage of cloud cover that cooled the track late in qualifying Friday and won the pole for the Pontiac 400.

Geoffrey Bodine, in his return to competition after a fiery crash in a truck race at Daytona in February, was fourth.

Wallace, the 46th of 47 drivers attempting to secure a top 25 starting spot for Saturday night's race, circled the three-quarter-mile Richmond International Raceway in his Ford at 124.749 mph to bump Steve Park's Chevrolet to the outside.

"I'm always pumped when I get to go to Richmond," Wallace said. "Richmond is a cool joint. I love coming up here. It's one of my favorite tracks."

The second row has Mike Skinner and Bodine, 51, who broke his ankle, wrist and a bone in his spine when his truck flipped and cartwheeled in flames after slamming into the wall at 190 mph at Daytona.

"It was a great run, but I'm still disappointed that we didn't get the pole," said Bodine, who was among the fastest all day. "They've suffered this year with me not being in the car. I apologized to them all for that, but we're back."

The high starting spot was Bodine's second straight top-10 qualifying effort here. Before that, he'd started no better than 18th for nine straight visits.

Wallace said the late qualifying draw proved a big advantage, but he also credited a front shock change after the last practice with boosting his speed.

"I wouldn't trade this team right now for nothing," he said.

Park, whose qualifying run came three spots ahead of Wallace, ran a lap at 124.687 about an hour before also starting No. 2 in the Hardee's 250 Busch Series event.

"I must be like Mr. Outside Pole," he said after arriving at the infield media center. "Is Rusty in here yet? I want to yell at him. He's just too good here."

Wallace, arguably the best short-track racer on the Winston Cup circuit, became the first three-time pole-sitter of the season and won his 29th career pole. Three of them have come at Richmond, where he's also won six times and finished in the top five 16 times in 23 races on the D-shaped layout since 1988.

"You go to those race tracks with more confidence than you do maybe at some other places, but the team has really been super all year long," Wallace said.

The third row has Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ricky Rudd, followed by Tony Stewart, who won here in the fall, Wally Dallenbach, points leader Bobby Labonte and Bill Elliott. Mark Martin, 20 points behind Labonte in second place, qualified 11th.

"We've got the exact same package that we had last year. That's the thing that's helping us," said Stewart, who has struggled in his sophomore season. He stands 11th in points, but has managed only three top-5 finishes in 10 races.

Defending race champion Dale Jarrett qualified 18th, while the list of drivers outside the top 25 after the first round included Jeff Burton (29th), Terry Labonte (30th) and Dale Earnhardt (31st).

The second round is set for Saturday afternoon, with the 400-lap race scheduled to begin at 7:40 p.m. (EDT).

Bodine Makes Triumphant Return: Geoffrey Bodine returned to Richmond Friday ready to race again.

After a 10-race absence, while he recovered from injuries following a horrific accident in the Craftsman Truck race during Speedweeks at Daytona, the 51-year-old driver of the No. 60 Power Team Chevrolet, qualified fourth for Saturday’s Pontiac Excitement 400.

"We’ve worked really hard to get back to this point," Bodine said. "It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life to come through that accident and the rehabilitation time. But we are back and I feel great."

Bodine has been working with Dr. Charles Branch of Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C., who insisted that Bodine wear a backbrace during competition.

"Dr. Brach said it’s OK for me to walk around and not wear it during the day if I’m careful," Bodine said. "He doesn’t know me very well, does he?"

During Bodine’s two decades as a Winston Cup competitor, he considers the Daytona crash to be the worst of his career.

"I’ve been in some accidents where I thought I would kill myself," Bodine said. "This accident happened so quickly and I thought it was going to be a normal accident. I had no idea it was going to be as dramatic as it was.

"It’s quite a remarkable story that I’m here, and I’m very fortunate and thankful for that. It certainly wasn’t luck that I survived. It was the grace of God that saved me. If anyone saw the wreck or the remains of the vehicle after the wreck would understand that something there saved my life."

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Pontiac Excitement 400 Qualifying Results

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