Inascar Notebook:/I Elliotts Record Doesnt Last Long

INDIANAPOLIS -- Led by pole-winner Ricky Rudd, 14 drivers topped Jeff Gordon's previous Brickyard 400 qualifying record on Thursday. Gordon, a two-time race winner, wasn't among them.

The first to surpass the year-old record of 179.612 mph was Bill Elliott at 180.448, but his stay on the pole was short, and by the time qualifying ended, he was only seventh-fastest.

"I wish I could have done some things differently, but when we were going through practice earlier this morning, there was so much cloud cover it's hard to guess what the race track's going to be in the afternoon," Elliott said. "That's the things we have to fight through. I should have made just a few more adjustments."

Elliott's best start at Indianapolis was fourth in 1995, and his best finish was third in the inaugural Brickyard 400 that Gordon won in 1994.

"We just hope we can finish the race this weekend, versus what I've been doing the last several weeks," said Elliott, who hasn't completed a race in almost two months and is 19th in the series standings.

"I was hoping to get a little more out of it, but there's so much that goes on at this place," Elliott said. "You've got real long straightaways, four distinct short corners, and you've just got to give it your best shot."

Gordon qualified at 178.745 mph, 27th among the 48 who posted qualifying speeds. Only the top 25 spots were locked in place, however, giving Gordon a choice of letting his speed stand -- which he almost certainly will -- or trying to re-qualify at a faster speed on Friday.

Forty-three cars will start the race.

"It's not the end of the world," Gordon said of his qualifying spot. "Track position is critical. We'll have to work on our pit strategy.

"The car was good. We would have liked to gone out earlier in the day, but we're in."
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Streak to Continue: Terry Labonte, still recovering from a broken right shinbone, will start his Winston Cup-record 656th straight race on Saturday but is expected to yield early to relief driver Todd Bodine.

Labonte practiced Thursday morning, but his leg was aching and swollen when he got out of the car, and Bodine qualified the No. 5 Chevrolet for him at 178.770 mph. Under NASCAR rules, Labonte will get the Winston Cup points as long as he starts the race.

He broke the bone at Daytona last month and aggravated the injury three weeks ago at Loudon, N.H. Rich Bickle relieved him after 26 laps a week later at Pocono.

"The car is definitely better than the driver," Bodine said after he qualified for Labonte. "He just didn't feel right. He just didn't feel up to it. He's going to start the race, though."
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True Grit: Barry Dodson, crew chief and part owner of rookie driver Mike Bliss' Pfizer/Viagra Pontiac, received the C&R Racing True Grit Award Thursday for his comeback in the Winston Cup series.

Dodson's two teen-age children were killed in a 1994 automobile crash and he was out of racing for about a year. He slowly worked his way back into the sport, then returned to NASCAR's top series last year at the Brickyard 400.

The award, which carries a $10,000 prize, is presented each year to a mechanic or crew chief at the Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis 500 for outstanding achievement or for overcoming adversity.

Previous winners at the Brickyard were the Wood Brothers in 1998 and Buddy Parrott in 1999.

A panel of motor sports journalists on Thursday picked Dodson over Ray Evernham, former crew chief for Jeff Gordon who has formed his own team and is leading the development of a new Dodge racing program; Robin Pemberton, the crew chief for Rusty Wallace; and Steve Hmiel, a consultant for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Dodson was the crew chief for Wallace when he won the Winston Cup series championship in 1989.

Bliss qualified Thursday at 178.426 mph, 32nd-fastest.
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Absent Owner: Mark Melling, the youngest car owner in the Winston Cup series, will not be at Indianapolis on Saturday for the Brickyard 400. He has a good reason, though.

He's getting married.

"There are many, many races, but I'm only getting married once," said Melling, who owns the No. 9 Ford driven by rookie Stacy Compton. "So missing a race isn't a big deal, but don't think for a minute I won't be pulling for Stacy and the guys on Saturday."

Melling, 30, is marrying LeAnne Smith at his family's TreeTops Resort in Northern Michigan. It will be the first time he has missed the Brickyard 400.

Compton, whose best finish was 22nd in the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond, Va., in May, is 34th in the Winston Cup standings and fourth among rookies. He qualified at 177.729 mph on Thursday, 39th-fastest.
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New Boss: CART team owner Chip Ganassi has bought 80 percent of the Sabco Racing team from Felix Sabates and was in the pits to call the shots for the qualifying runs of drivers Sterling Marlin and Ted Musgrave.

Marlin qualified 20th at 179.283 mph and Musgrave was 35th at 178.366. Musgrave joined the team in place of Kenny Irwin Jr., who was killed July 7 at Loudon, N.H.

The official announcement of Ganassi's taking control of the team was not expected to be made until Friday, but Sabates said Thursday, "He's the boss now."

Ganassi Racing has won a record four straight CART championships and the Indianapolis 500 in May with Juan Montoya.

Photos

  • Jeff Gordon Through the Years
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