Bodine Best At Martinsville

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Time is running out, boys. There aren’t many races left this year, and Jeff Gordon is showing no signs of slowing down.

He certainly didn’t go slow Friday at Martinsville Speedway. In fact, he went faster than almost everyone in qualifying for the Old Dominion 500, and will start third in Sunday’s 500-lap Winston Cup race at this flat half-mile track.

Todd Bodine was fastest of them all Friday, earning his third pole of the season to rank behind only Gordon – who has six – in that category. Bodine’s lap of 93.724 mph knocked Gordon off the pole, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. followed Bodine by bumping Gordon off the front row with a lap of 93.617 mph.

“A lot of the races we’ve unloaded and had real close qualifying setups, and that’s critical in Winston Cup racing,” Bodine said. “If you’re out there trying to chase three-tenths and trying to catch up with the pack, you end up throwing things at the car and really getting in left field sometimes.

“We’ve been lucky that we’ve unloaded and just had to fine-tune the car, trying to find that tenth and tenth-and-a-half, and that’s allowed us the luxury of knowing we’re going to be close to the front. It allows me to drive the car a little harder and get something extra out of it.”

Dale Jarrett qualified fourth, followed by Johnny Benson, Ricky Craven and Joe Nemechek. Tony Stewart was fastest in Friday’s practice, but was forced to qualify with raindrops pelting the track, and could only muster the eighth starting spot.

Rusty Wallace and Dave Blaney rounded out the Top 10.

Gordon was the seventh car out, and his speed held up for most of the session.

“Pretty happy with that lap,” Gordon said. “It was a good clean lap. I could go over it a million times and see where I could have picked up, but it seems like, with the track temperature, you can’t lean on it.

“I was trying to go good on the second lap. I was building up for that. I had to be smooth. A smooth lap was real important today.”

Gordon carries a 237-point lead over Ricky Rudd, who was 19th fastest Friday, into the weekend.

“We were fifth fastest in practice, but it just seemed like it took us four, five or six laps to get going and post a good speed,” Rudd said. “That was a good first lap; we just didn’t get it done on the second lap. I’ve been real loose accelerating off the corner, but after five, six or seven laps in the run, it would start tucking up.

“Unfortunately, we only got three laps today, and I just couldn’t get it done in three laps.”

With seven races remaining, all Gordon has to do is finish fifth or better in each race to clinch his fourth Winston Cup title.

“Everywhere we go these days, we have to qualify good,” Gordon said. “But at a short track like Martinsville, getting a good pit location and starting up toward the front is crucial. I’m glad we’re running good.”

Gordon won the pole here in April and led six laps, but a decision to stay on the track – instead of pitting – late in the race led to a 12th-place finish.

“This is a good track for us,” Gordon said. “We have run well here. The last time we were here, we had a top-five car, but we made some bad decisions in the pits by not coming into he pits. We feel like we kind of worked our way out of a top-five finish the last time.”

Gordon said he isn’t planning any special strategy over the last seven races to try to hold his points lead. At Martinsville, trouble comes quickly as 43 cars are tightly bunched the entire race.

“I’ve raced long enough to know you can make all the plans in the world, and that plan gets shot to pieces right away,” Gordon said. “You can’t go out there saying, ‘I’m going to stay out of trouble.’ It doesn’t happen that way. You can’t go out there saying, ‘You know what? I’m going to go out there and lead every lap.’

“You’ve just got to run your race, fight hard every single lap for every position. That’s all you can do every weekend.”

And that’s what he plans on doing Sunday. Gordon has won three times here in Southern Virginia, and a victory this weekend would be his seventh of the season.

“Winning pays the most points to the championship,” Gordon said. “Our lead that we have in the points right now is very minimal. That can go away in a hurry, so we’re racing for wins.”

Bodine, too, said he’ll be racing for victory Sunday. In his previous front-row starts, Bodine hasn’t finished higher than 14th.

“We’re here to win this race,” Bodine said. “If we weren’t, we would have never loaded up the cars and come to the race track. But in a realistic world, we have to understand where our team is at and be prepared that if we don’t have a car to win the race, we have to get the best finish we can.

“If we’ve got a car capable of winning the race, you can bet your butt we’re going be up there fighting for the win.”

Hermie Sadler qualified for his second race of the season, and Dick Trickle drove Dave Marcis’ car to 25th.

Carl Long ran the same time as Brett Bodine, who qualified 36th, but since Bodine is higher in the points standings, he made the race while Long went home. The other drivers who failed to qualify were Kyle Petty and Frank Kimmel.

The drivers taking provisionals were Kenny Wallace, Jimmy Spencer, Elliott Sadler, Kurt Busch, Casey Atwood, Jason Leffler and Stacy Compton.

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