Rusty Rushes To Record At PIR

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – When it comes to qualifying for NASCAR Winston Cup races, Rusty Wallace just continues to amaze.

For the ninth time this season, Wallace took the top starting spot for a race, winning the Bud Pole for the Dura Lube 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in impressive fashion. Wallace circled the one-mile track at a track record speed of 134.178 to edge Jeff Burton for the top starting spot on Friday.

“I had no idea we could do that,” Wallace said. “That is incredible.”

On Fridays this year, it has been Wallace that has been incredible, winning nine poles in 32 attempts. But Wallace said the handling on his No. 2 Miller Ford was not up to par in the morning practice sessions at PIR and that it took hard work by his crew to turn things around.

“So far so good,” Wallace said. “We were way off on the set-up when we first unloaded, but we changed a lot of stuff – shocks, air pressure, gears you name it. That just goes to show if you keep digging hard enough then good things will happen. We came here with a set-up that we thought would be good, but we got here and I was getting loose getting in the corners. As time went on in practice, we kept getting better and better.”

Not known for his qualifying prowess, Burton said he would gladly start second to Wallace after coming up just shy of the top spot with his lap of 134.103 mph.

Robert Pressley had a strong qualifying effort at 133.279 mph to grab the third starting position. Johnny Benson was fourth and Steve Park fifth.

Rounding out the Top 10 were Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte and Ryan Newman who is making his first career Winston Cup start. In a twist, Newman is driving a car owned by Roger Penske, who also owns the Fords of Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield.

“All three team cars are up there today,” said Wallace, in reference to Mayfield who ended up 25th. “But to be honest, I was more nervous for Ryan than I was myself with him a new team with no points. Ryan told me, ‘Man, I’ve got to put it all on one lap.’ And it was tough for him to do that.”

Newman seemed a bit in awe at the media attention following his effort of getting into the field on the first day. And getting in the first 36 positions on Friday may be key as rain is in the forecast for Saturday.

“Like Rusty said, I knew one lap was going to be difficult,” Newman said. “I’m just happy to have the opportunity to drive for somebody like Roger Penske.”

A total of 14 cars broke the previous track qualifying record at Phoenix of 132.714 mph, set by John Andretti last year.

Burton held the pole position at 134.103 mph until Wallace knocked him off in the final 15 minutes of the qualifying session.

“That’s a great lap for us,” Burton said. “We were third fastest in pratctice, so we picked up two tenths. To have a chance to win a pole, you always have to pick up from practice. I’ll sleep great tonight because that’s about all we could get. We’ll certainly take that lap.

Labonte, the Winston Cup points leader, will have a decent starting position Sunday. His lap of 133.062 mph was much better than he had run in practice earlier.

“We struggled a little bit early on, and we made some big changes before qualifying,” Labonte said. “We really didn’t have a chance to make a good qualifying run (in practice earlier). We weren’t as good as we should have been earlier, but the guys did a great job and we pulled of a lap better than maybe we deserved. It should be a good starting spot for us.”

Labonte leads Dale Earnhardt by 201 points in the race for the Winston Cup championship, with three races remaining. Earnhardt qualified 31st.

Pressley pulled off a great lap Friday, fashioning a fast lap of 133.279 mph to earn the third starting spot for Sunday’s race.

‘We’re really excited about this,” said the driver of the No. 77 Jasper Motorsports Ford. “This was the car we brought to Rockingham and ran well with. All of our guys are busting their tails, and it really paid off today.”

Johnny Benson was fourth fastest, giving Pontiac a strong presence in the Top 5.

“It was a good run for us. We’re real happy with the way this Aaron’s Pontiac ran. I wanted to get the pole, but we just weren’t tough enough today to get that. All the cars that these guys have been putting together are great. We felt we’d be OK here. I like this place. I like most of the tracks we run, but I really
like Phoenix. We had an outside shot at maybe sitting on the pole, but we didn’t do that. But we’re still pretty happy.”

Mark Martin is still without a pole for the 2000 season. The driver of the No. 6 Valvoline Ford turned a fast lap of 133.067 mph Friday.

“We’re still trying to get into the Bud Shootout, so we’re disappointed that we haven’t gotten one yet,” Martin said. “That was a good lap, but we knew it wouldn’t be good enough to get a pole. We’ve got two races to get one, so we’ll what happens.”

Defending race champion Tony Stewart had an awful day. His lap of 130.421 mph was good enough for only 43rd fastest out of 48 cars that attempted to qualify.

“The challenge has been trying to go fast,” Stewart said. “I don’t know what to do right now. We’ve got a lot of work to do for Sunday. All I know is we’re going o have to start way back in the back, and go from there.”

Saturday's second round of Winston Cup qualifying for Sunday's Dura-Lube 500 produced some bad news for five drivers.

Those failing to make the 43-car field were: Stacy Compton, Steve Grissom, Robby Gordon, Dave Marcis and Hut Stricklin.

Gordon was driving a backup car after wrecking his primary car in qualifying Friday.

Stewart, Terry Labonte, Joe Nemechek, Jerry Nadeau, Ted Musgrave, Michael Waltrip and Rich Bickle used provisionals to get into the race.

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