Blaney Qualifies 41St At Michigan

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The wait was worth it for Ricky Craven. But it was agonizing for Bill Elliott.

Craven, the last car to qualify Friday at Michigan International Speedway, shocked the NASCAR Winston Cup field with a lap of 188.127 mph to knock Bill Elliott off the pole. Craven last won a pole at New Hampshire in 1998.

Dave Blaney had to wait to see if he would make the race. He did, qualifying his Amoco Ultimate Dodge at 183.547 mph, good for 41st.

Craven picked up more than a half-second over his practice lap to earn the pole.

“I wasn’t banking on it (picking up that much), but I knew the chance was there,” Craven said. “The guys made some great changes, great changes. It’s been that way all year. The last four or five races, it seems like we’re really starting to hit on the little things.

“(Crew chief) Mike Beam, I’m really glad I hooked up with him. It’s been a lot of fun racing this year.”

Craven’s team brought a new car to Michigan and used most of the day as a test session.

“This is a brand-new car,” Craven said. “Our approach today was to sort of test. We had two hours to sort through that new car. For me to run fast, I couldn’t evaluate the car. I’d run as hard as I could but still think about the car. I’d come and say, ‘Mike, here’s what I think.’ And he’d tell me what he thought. We threw a bunch of stuff at it. Every time we went, we got more and more comfortable.”

It was the first Winston Cup pole for car owner Cal Wells, whose PPI Motorsports team is in its second year of operation.

“We’ve been running Top 10 the last month,” Craven said. “We’re legitimately a top-10 team. We just need to keep doing that. We need to keep pounding away, and we’re going to get us (a victory). Thinking that because we won the pole automatically legitimizes us to win the race might be getting a little bit ahead of ourselves.

“But I’ll tell you this, we’re gaining on it. We’ve got a chance, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Elliott went out early in Friday’s qualifying session and turned a lap of 187.857 mph. Elliott Sadler later went 187.217 mph, and the two Elliotts held the front row most of the day.

But Rudd, who was quickest in Friday’s practice session, bumped Elliott – Sadler, that is – from the second position. Elliott – Bill – held on the top spot before Craven’s run.

“We picked up a little bit from practice,” Elliott said. “That’s what you’ve got to do. My lap was pretty good. I don’t know what I could have done to get it any better. We might have changed the car a little bit, but all in all, it ran good.”

Elliott, the active leader with six poles and seven victories at Michigan, last won a pole at the 2-mile track in 1988 and last won a race in 1989. He started sixth and finished ninth at Michigan in June, but the Intrepid has gone through an aerodynamic change since then.

The air dam, thanks to a NASCAR rule change, has been lengthened two inches, which helps front downforce. Elliott wouldn’t say how much it helped Friday’s qualifying run.

“It will be something we have to work through,” Elliott said. “Whether it’s good bad or indifferent, I’ll know more tomorrow in practice. From last time to now, we’ve learned a little bit. I feel like I helped a little bit. We’re pretty close to what we ran here the last race.”

Rudd, who ended up third, has been pretty close, too. He’s finished second in the past two Michigan races, and qualified second to Jeff Gordon in June here and second to Dale Jarrett last week at Watkins Glen.

“We’re real happy with the Texaco/Havoline Taurus,” Rudd said. “We were fastest in practice, and we picked up a little bit in qualifying. You can’t ask for much more than that.”

Sadler, too, was pretty happy with his fourth-place run.

“Most of the year in qualifying, we’ve really been struggling,” Sadler said.

“All the Motorcraft Ford Taurus guys, all the Wood Brothers have really worked hard this week to get this car ready.

“That’s a great lap. I haven’t smiled this much in a long time.”

John Andretti, the next-to-last car to qualify, ended up fifth. Elliott’s Evernham Motorsports teammate, Casey Atwood, was sixth, with Michael Waltrip seventh, Hut Stricklin eighth and Joe Gibbs racing teammates Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart ninth and 10th, respectively.

Jeff Gordon, leading the NASCAR Winston Cup points standings by 194 over Rudd, qualified 13th. Jarrett, third in the points standings behind Gordon and Rudd, was 17th. Jerry Nadeau’s first lap was good enough for 31st, but he crashed on his second lap and will have to go to a backup car for Sunday’s race.

Mike Skinner, making his return to Richard Childress’ No. 31 after a four-race layoff, was 19th. Skinner suffered a broken ankle and injured knee in a crash at Chicagoland Speedway on July 15.

“That was our third lap on the race track,” Skinner said. “I can’t say enough. These guys have worked their butt off to get a backup engine in the race car and get it back out there and get a lap.”

Buckshot Jones and David Keith failed to qualify and went home.

The green flag is scheduled to wave for Sunday’s Pepsi 400, a 200-lap race, at 2 p.m. (ET).

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2001

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