Gordon On Pole On Roll

BROOKLYN, Mich. – There’s a major sense of déjà vu surrounding the NASCAR Winston Cup Series this season. That’s because Jeff Gordon has once again become the dominant force he was in the late 1990’s.

Gordon continued his recent hot streak by winning the pole for Sunday’s Kmart 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Friday afternoon. He topped the qualifying session with a lap of 188.250 mph, and it will be the fourth time Gordon and his DuPont Chevy team will start from the front this season. One of those times, at Darlington, he started first because qualifying was rained out and he was the points leader at the time (thus getting the first starting position).

“That was an incredible lap,” said Gordon, who enters the weekend trailing series points leader Dale Jarrett by 50. “It was just a great effort by the whole team, I’m so proud of everyone. The car was a little tight in practice, we loosened it up and were ready to go for qualifying.”

Gordon came to Michigan fresh off his dominating performance at Dover last Sunday. After leading 381 of the 400-lap chase around the concrete oval, many think Gordon is ready to return to his “Wonder Boy” status of three years ago. But the three-time Winston Cup champion isn’t taking anything for granted.

“What happened last week doesn’t happen very often,” Gordon said. “It’s tough to do something like that in this day and age of Winston Cup racing, so we’re certainly not going to pound on our chests too hard because we know those kinds of runs are few and far between.”

Gordon’s day on Friday wasn’t a total cakewalk. He survived a strong run by the day’s final qualifier Ricky Rudd, who will start second.

“I thought we had a chance to get the pole today because the car ran so strong this morning in practice,” Rudd said. “I actually think it’s going to be a better race car than a qualifying car, so I’m looking forward to Sunday.”

Mike Skinner qualified third followed by Dave Blaney, Ricky Craven, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jeremy Mayfield and Johnny Benson.

“We were really tight in the practice session this morning and wanted to loosen things up before we went out and qualified,” Skinner said. “The car handled great on that first lap and I really feel like we’re going to have a good car come Sunday, too.”

Sunday will be an historic day for Shawna Robinson, who will become the first woman to start a Winston Cup race in more than 10 years. After failing to qualify for the NAPA 500 in Fontana, Calif. earlier this year, Robinson secured a spot at Michigan with a run of 185.529 mph.

“It was a little loose, but that’s how we wanted it,” said Robinson, who will start 32nd in Sunday’s field. “I just can’t thank my team, this crew and these fans for all the support I’ve received in making this dream come true. We want to make this a career and run full time next season, not just make one race.”

It wasn’t a good day for defending race winner Tony Stewart, who turned in a disappointing lap of 184.091 mph. Fourth in the season standings, Stewart was forced to take a provisional to make Sunday’s race. As expected, Stewart voiced displeasure over the effort.

“We were so off, the car just wouldn’t work through the turns at all,” said Stewart. “We’re going to have to come a long way back to get to the front on Sunday.”

Stewart joins Bobby Hamilton, Elliott Sadler, Ward Burton, Jerry Nadeau, Terry Labonte and Robert Pressley using provisionals to get into the field.

Five drivers failed to qualify for the event; Kenny Wallace, Mike Wallace, Rick Mast, Andy Houston and Stacy Compton.

Sunday’s race is the 14th of the season and marks the 63rd Winston Cup Series race held at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway. More than $3.3 million in posted awards are on the line. The Kmart 400 will be televised live on the FX cable network at 1 p.m. (ET).

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