Blaney Qualifies 29Th At Pocono

LONG POND, Pa. – Ricky Rudd didn’t care too much for his qualifying lap Friday at Pocono Raceway.

His competitors were impressed.

Rudd won the pole for Sunday’s Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway by beating the Winston Cup field by more than a half-a-second – an eternity in NASCAR.

Dave Blaney qualified 29th in the No. 93 Amoco Ultimate Dodge.

“That was a lap I didn’t think anybody could beat today,” said Rudd, whose lap was 170.503 mph. “We were really fast in practice, and I was just hoping I could get back to the speed that I turned in practice.”

Rudd was fastest in the lone practice session, turning a lap of 169.725 mph, which was fourth-tenths of a second faster than Johnny Benson. But after his qualifying lap, Rudd was scratching his head.

“Really, to be honest, I didn’t think it was that good a lap,” Rudd said. “I thought I had slowed a little bit from the lap I had run in practice. I had no idea that we beat that lap by about three tenths. I was slipping and sliding. I don’t know if it was the heat of the day or what. It didn’t feel like that great of a lap. I’m glad it turned out the way it did though.”

Sterling Marlin was second with a lap of 168.811 mph. But that was 1.69 mph and .529 seconds slower than Rudd. Ken Schrader posted his best qualifying effort of the season and will start third.

“Man, we thought we had something until Ricky went out,” Schrader said. “Then it was like, ‘Holy heck.’”

“What about Ricky Rudd?” said Brett Bodine, who qualified 11th. “That’s just awesome.”

The rest of the Top 10 were: Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Benson, Jeff Burton, Jeremy Mayfield and Dale Jarrett.

Jeff Gordon, who goes for his third-straight victory Sunday, was 13th.

Rudd bounced back well from a disappointing runner-up finish last week at Michigan, where Rudd took the lead from Gordon coming to the white flag, only to lose heading into Turn 1 on the last lap.

Still, it was Rudd’s seventh top-10 finish in the past eight races, moving him from 11th to fourth in the Winston Cup standings. He’s 130 points behind leader Gordon.

“We definitely have a lot of momentum on our side, and I really can’t think of a better track for us to be going to than Pocono,” Rudd said. “With the points race so close, we’re hungrier than ever.”

Rudd has raced at Pocono more times than any active driver, competing in 43 races. But he had never won a pole before Friday and doesn’t have a victory there – yet.

“I believe we will be very strong this weekend,” Rudd said. “In fact, when I look back at last year, I think we had a car capable of winning both races at Pocono. In the June race we got caught up in a wreck and had the front torn off the car. And even with the damage, we were awful good and raced back to a third-place finish.

“In July we were even better until I hit some debris, cut a tire down and wrecked. The long Pocono straightaways are great for us because of our Robert Yates horsepower. (crew chief) Michael McSwain and my guys can really make a car handle well and with those long corners, handling is very important.”

That’s because Pocono is a three-turn oval, with all three corners having different sizes and bankings.

“Turn 1 is probably the easiest of the three, but you’ve got the challenge of having to downshift in the middle of the corner,” Stewart said. “You go down the backstretch and into the tunnel turn and it’s basically one lane. It’s flat and very line-sensitive. You’ve got to make sure you’re right on your marks every lap when you go through there.

“Then you’ve got a short chute into Turn 3. It’s a big, long corner and it too is very line-sensitive. With it being line-sensitive and the fact that we’ve got a straightaway that’s three-quarters of a mile long after that, it’s very important that you get through the last corner well. You need to come off the corner quickly so that you’re not bogged down when you start down that long straightaway. Each corner has its challenges, and each one tends to present a different set of circumstances with each lap you make.”

Rudd handled all those circumstances just fine Friday.

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