Gordon A Richmond Rocket

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RICHMOND, Va. – Leave it Jeff Gordon to spoil Rusty Wallace’s party.

Wallace leads all active drivers with six victories at Richmond International Raceway and has three poles at the .750-mile facility, but Gordon, who went out 39th among the 47 qualifiers Friday, edged past Wallace to win his fourth career pole at Richmond and his sixth of the season. Gordon also was awarded a pole based on points this year. He’ll start from the front in Saturday’s NASCAR Winston Cup Chevy Monte Carlo 400.

The Winston Cup points leader turned a fast lap of 124.902 mph. Wallace was second at 124.510, followed by Sterling Marlin, Jeff Burton, Ward Burton, Bobby Labonte, Casey Atwood, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Rudd and Ron Hornaday.

Wallace has always been steady at Richmond over the years, but hasn’t won a Winston Cup race there since the spring of 1997. Gordon is the defending champion of the Chevy Monte Carlo 400.

Over the years, Gordon says he’s developed a pretty good strategy for qualifying at Richmond.

“The first lap was faster than I thought it would be because I always give up the first lap here,” Gordon said. “On the second lap, I just hoped I had something left in the tires. We didn’t start out the day too good, but we made great adjustments and that thing was just incredible. This is a tough place to get a hold of things on the first lap, but Rusty did a great job with that today. On the second lap, I just try to get my momentum going. That’s always worked well for me.”

With 11 races remaining, Gordon leads Rudd by 342 points in the championship standings. He’ll have a great shot to extend that advantage by starting from the front of the pack Saturday night.

“Even though we’ve got a pretty good cushion in the points race, it only takes a few bad finishes to even things up,” Gordon said. “We’ve been fortunate to not have any bad luck when it seems that everyone else has."

Wallace has gotten used to starting up front at Richmond International Raceway, but more than anything, he’d like to finish up front at the .750-mile oval once again.

Wallace has six career victories at RIR, but hasn’t won there since the spring of 1997. He’ll try to get back to victory lane Saturday night in the Chevy Monte Carlo 400.

Poles are great, but Wallace wants the whole ball of wax.

“It’d sure be nice to get back to Richmond and put the whole deal together again... dominate and win,” Wallace said. “We’ve had a lot of dominant wins at Richmond and we can do it again. I’m sure of that.

“We won nine poles last year and haven’t gotten one this year, and I’m pretty surprised by that. It’s aggravating because it seems like every time we finish second in qualifying it seems like Gordon is the one that has beaten us and he’s always gone out late. We knew he was behind us today and that it was going to be a shootout, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t get us again today.”

Richmond, where Wallace finished third in the Pontiac Excitement 400 in the spring, is certainly one of his favorite tracks on the Winston Cup circuit.

“I guess it’s true that I really do have two very favorite tracks, if that’s possible,” Wallace said. “Bristol has always been a great track for me and with winning my first race there, all the success we’ve had and with the car dealerships and all, it has to rate as super special.

“But, the fact is that I really love coming to Richmond to race and it's extra special, too,” said Wallace. “The track is a great track to race on and the fans in that area are some of the best around. Richmond is one of the most fun towns we visit, with plenty of great places to stay, some super restaurants and all.”

A lot has happened to Ward Burton since he first attempted to qualify for a NASCAR Winston Cup at Richmond International Raceway, in 1994.

He has since hooked up with Bill Davis Racing, and has been a solid figure in one of Davis’ cars for many years. He’s also won three Winston Cup races, including last Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

His quest this week is to win a race in his home state of Virginia, and can do on Saturday night in the Chevy Monte Carlo 400 at RIR. Burton’s first Winston Cup race at the .750-mile oval was seven years ago, and he said he was very fortunate to event get into the race driving a car fielded by his Busch Series owner at the time.

“We made it on second round that day,” Burton said. “That was pretty lucky because we were the only ones to make it on second round. We started out the race well and we were actually moving up through the field before the motor expired. It was a pretty trying time at that moment, during that season. We really didn't have any experience.

“We had taken our Busch crew up to the Winston Cup level and Mr. Dillard was struggling with having the proper funding. There were times during the year when we showed some real promise. We set a track record at Charlotte and finished second at Pocono. Those two things kind of stand out in my mind, but it was obviously a big beginning of starting to get some experience at this level.”

Burton won his first Winston Cup race at Rockingham in the fall of 1995. He’s since won twice at Darlington.

Burton has never finished in the Top 5 at Richmond, and he finished 21st in the spring race in May, two laps down to winner Tony Stewart. His brother, Jeff, won the fall race at RIR in 1998.

“It’s been an up and down track for us,” Ward said of Richmond. “We’ve run well there (Richmond) in the past and we’ve run poorly in the past. We’re slowly but surely getting our cars better, our motors better. At the same time, Richmond is of course like all of our tracks, it’s very important to have a good chassis package on it.”

Earnhardt Jr., whose second of three career Winston Cup victories came at Richmond last spring, turned in the fastest lap of the first practice session Friday afternoon at 124.447 mph, but lost more than a tenth-of-a-second in qualifying.

“I left off (the gas) too early getting into Turn 1, and that cost us a lot of time,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I tried to make it up in (Turns) three and four, but I wasn’t able to. It’s a disappointment. I had to do some promotional things in between practice and qualifying, and I think I got a little bit unfocused.”

Jeff Green, who won the pole for Friday night’s Busch race, qualified 18th for the Winston Cup race in the No. 30 AOL Chevy. He went out early in the qualifying session, something he wasn’t happy about.

“The track is a little slick out there,” Green said. “Unfortunately, we just got a bad draw. The asphalt is very hot and it’s gotten very slick, and the early guys have to pay for that.”

Bill Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Jerry Nadeau, Kurt Busch, Michael Waltrip, Jason Leffler and Kevin Lepage all took provisionals for Saturday night’s race. Hut Stricklin, Carl Long, Hermie Sadler and Andy Houston failed to make the field.

The green flag is scheduled to drop on the Chevy Monte Carlo 400 shortly after 8 p.m. EDT Saturday night.

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