A Craven For Subway Pole

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. – When the green flag dropped for last Sunday’s Daytona 500, Ricky Craven looked through his windshield and saw 42 other cars. Craven barely made it in the season-opener, starting 43rd on a provisional.

When the green flag drops in this Sunday’s Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway, Craven will look through his windshield and see… only the green flag.

Craven stormed to the pole Friday with a lap of 156.008 mph in his PPI Motorsports Ford, beating Ken Schrader and Johnny Benson for the top spot.

“Maybe this is the car we should have taken to Daytona,” Craven said. “Starting last at Daytona is better than not starting at all. It was a tough week on the team. To come here and win the pole is great, redemption for the team. They worked as hard as anybody (in Daytona). The result didn’t equal the effort. This makes up for it.

“Obviously, I’m really proud of the Tide team. I feel like from the second half of 2001, we had turned the corner. The pole allows us to pick up where we left off last year in terms of momentum. We all know we have to finish the job.”

Schrader was second at 154.696 mph, besting teammate Benson for a front row starting spot. Dale Jarrett was fourth, with Jerry Nadeau fifth. Sterling Marlin qualified sixth, followed by Kurt Busch, Rusty Wallace, Kenny Wallace and Bobby Hamilton.

The pole was Craven’s fifth of his career and his second with PPI. Craven also started first at Michigan last year. Craven also scored his first Winston Cup victory last year with PPI, going to victory lane at Martinsville in October.

Craven was 12th fastest in the lone practice, going 152.824 mph. But he picked up nearly a half-second when it came time to qualify.

“Before qualifying, I told (crew chief) Mike Beam and (engineer) Roy McCauley, ‘If you can tie the back of the car down so I can get aggressive, this thing is a rocket,’ ” Craven said. “(The changes) were just perfect because it did allow me to really accelerate from the middle off.”

Schrader picked up a lot from practice, too, improving from 22nd at 152.094 to second at 154.696.

“We knew we would be solid (after practice), but you just don’t know,” Schrader said.

Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton was 18th at 153.394 mph, capping off a whirlwind week of appearances, interviews and celebrations.

“We don’t normally set the record qualifying,” Burton said, “but we’ll run good come Sunday.”

Defending Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who won the pole for this race last year at 156.455 mph, was only 33rd Friday at 152.671 mph.

Jeremy Mayfield and Kyle Petty were the top two cars in practice, but neither cracked the Top 20 in qualifying. Mayfield ended up 21st, with Petty 32nd.

“It seemed like we were good this morning, and from that point on the track got worse,” Mayfield said. “We never ran that (fast) again… We’ll have to get it figured out.”

Petty, though, was happy to get in the race after failing to qualify last February.

“My car drove a little tighter when we qualified, and that knocked some of the speed out of it,” Petty said. “I still get to race here. I didn’t race here last year.”

Jimmy Spencer, who switched to Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dodges in the offseason but failed to qualify for the Daytona 500, was a solid 12th at 153.658 mph.

Friday’s qualifying was the first test of NASCAR’s one-engine rule, which means the engines used in qualifying must be used in Sunday’s race.

“We knew it was a challenge with the new engine rule,” Craven said. “You don’t want to get the engine hot.”

But speed on Friday doesn’t automatically translate into speed on Sunday. Rockingham’s 1.017-mile surface is so abrasive to tires that speeds drop dramatically after a few laps.

“If you can get the car driving well enough that you can run a good pace without pushing the car, then normally halfway through a run you’re really good and you’re really starting to pull away from guys whose cars aren’t quite as balanced as yours,” said Tony Stewart, who qualified 19th. “They’re having to use up their tires a little more than you.”

Joe Nemechek, Elliott Sadler, Hut Stricklin, Terry Labonte, Todd Bodine, Stacy Compton and Rick Mast were awarded provisionals. Dick Trickle, driving Dave Marcis' No. 71 Chevy, failed to make the field along with Randy Renfrow and Carl Long.

Sunday’s 393-lap race gets the green flag at 1 p.m. (ET). Steve Park is the defending champion, but he is out while recovering from injuries suffered in a Busch Series crash last September at Darlington Raceway.

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