DJ OK At Dover Downs

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DOVER, Del. – There must not be any team orders at Robert Yates Racing.

Ricky Rudd is supposed to be the guy chasing Jeff Gordon in the race for the NASCAR Winston Cup championship, but Dale Jarrett was the man to beat Friday.

Jarrett won the pole for Sunday’s MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 as NASCAR’s top series returned to the track after last week’s race at New Hampshire was postponed following the terrorist attacks on the United States.

Jarrett supplanted teammate Rudd and points leader Gordon as the top newsmaker Friday. Jarrett edged Bobby Labonte for the pole with a fast lap of 154.919 mph.

“It’s a good race car,” said Jarrett, who claimed his fourth pole of the season. “I didn’t really know that we had the car for the pole, but we made a couple of slight changes. One of the keys was the tires that we put on, which were brand new tires. I know a number of guys scuffed theirs.”

Gordon was uncharacteristically slow Friday, turning in a lap of 152.860 that was only good enough for 23rd. Gordon started second and led 381 laps in winning here in June.

“We were really, really tight, and we just kept freeing up the car,” Gordon said. “When we went out for qualifying, that thing was just completely sideways. We messed up a little bit there, so we’ll pay the penalty by starting in the back.

“We’ve got a good race car no matter where we start and we’ve got a good enough team that we can have good pit stops. We’ll just be patient and take our time getting to the front.”

Gordon leads Rudd by 222 points with 10 races remaining. That margin was reduced considerably in the last race at Richmond when Gordon crashed early and Rudd won, giving Rudd renewed hope for a title.

Rudd qualified fourth at 154.792 mph but was displeased after leading practice Friday morning.

“I’m not really sure what happened,” Rudd said. “We debated about whether we should go on scuffed tires or sticker tires, and we elected to go on pretty hard scuffed tires. I don’t know if that was the difference or not, but that was pretty much the slowest we ran all day.

“I knew it was gonna get a little bit slower as the day wore on, but I’m not sure. We just didn’t get a hold of the track. We were sort of sliding around, and I guess in hindsight we probably shouldn’t have used scuffed tires.”

Labonte’s lap of 154.872 mph was .013 seconds slower than Jarrett’s.

“That was the best lap we had all day,” said Labonte, wearing a New York City Police Department hat. “We started off this morning a little bit slow, but we’d been picking up a little bit all day long. That was really good. We worked real hard this morning. Because we were so far off to begin with, we worked really hard to get something out of it. We just kept making some headway and we did it all day. Then we picked up a little bit for qualifying. It was great job again by all the guys.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished third at Dover in the June race, qualified third, with Rudd fourth and Ricky Craven fifth.

Kenny Wallace qualified sixth in Steve Park’s car, with Jeremy Mayfield seventh, Ron Hornaday eighth, Todd Bodine ninth and Bill Elliott 10th. Park is still recovering from injuries suffered in a Busch Series race crash at Darlington a few weeks ago.

Jarrett is trying to overcome a dreadful stretch of races that dropped him out of a tie with Gordon atop the points standings to third, a hopeless 393 points behind. Since winning at New Hampshire, Jarrett has finished 31st or worse in four of his seven races.

“We’ve got to do our very best to make sure that we have zero problems from here on out,” Jarrett said. “We need to step this up a notch, and that’s why we went to Charlotte for two days (to test) this week. Things we learned there helped us today and are gonna help us for the race on Sunday.

“We’re still committed. Until you tell us that mathematically we can’t win this championship, we’re still going like we can win this championship.”

The mood was somber at Dover Downs on Friday as NASCAR returned to racing. Security was tight, as everyone who entered had bags inspected, and larger bags and coolers were prohibited.

“To say that we’re not down would be a lie,” Mike Skinner said. “We’re all down. We have a job to do. We’ve got to go out and focus and do our job. I’m still giving it 100 percent, everything I have on the race track. We do pretty good with blocking stuff out.

“Everybody’s concerned. NASCAR is an awesome, awesome place to be. I love making my living here. When I walked down through the garage area today and saw all the American flags and the things people had written on their cars, it’s phenomenal.”

The seven drivers to take provisionals were: Johnny Benson, Mark Martin, Jimmy Spencer, Matt Kenseth, Jerry Nadeau, Dave Blaney and Kurt Busch. Drives who failed to qualify were: Rick Mast, Jason Leffler, Lance Hooper and Dave Marcis.

After qualifying, NASCAR announced that six cars this weekend will be carrying crash-data recorders on them, including Gordon and Labonte in Winston Cup. Two Busch Series and two Busch North Series cars will also use them in what Winston Cup director Gary Nelson called a test of durability.

“The test on the accident data recorders on the cars is to ensure that in this environment that they do their job properly,” Nelson said. “There are two big hurdles we want to cross. One is the heat that’s inside these cars, and where we want to mount them and to make sure they continue to work in the high temperatures inside the cars. The second thing is the durability, and will they work for the full length of the race weekend.”

Nelson joked that several people in the garage area asked, “Why don’t you find guys that would really test them?” referring to an actual crash. That’s not what NASCAR wants.

“The test we’re trying to performance is distance,” Nelson said.

NASCAR announced at the press conference unveiling the results of the investigation into the crash that took Dale Earnhardt’s life that crash-data recorders would be used on all cars in 2002.

The recorder is battery powered and mounted near the driver.

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