Eight Is Great For Newman

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Jeff Gordon has tried to keep a smile on his face. It can’t be easy for him, as anyone who has gone through a divorce can understand.

But the smile was on Gordon’s face Friday afternoon after he won the pole for Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

And he not only won the pole, he blasted the Bristol track record with a phenomenal lap of 127.216 mph, easily beating Steve Park’s track record of 126.370. Four drivers broke the former track record.

Rookie Ryan Newman continued his impressive qualifying record by putting the ALLTEL Ford in the Top 10 with an eighth place qualifying position.

Gordon, the last driver to go out for his lap, edged another Gordon, Robby, to win his 40th career NASCAR Winston Cup pole – but his first at Bristol. Robby Gordon held the top spot for most of Friday’s qualifying session with a lap of 126.478 mph.

“This is exciting for us,” Jeff Gordon said. “We’ve been real close in the past. I think we’ve been on the outside front row five or six times. We’ve been real close but just didn’t seem to put it all together.

“Today, the car was again strong. We freed it up a little bit for practice, got a lucky draw to go out last to see what it was going to take. The first lap I was a little bit loose, and I said, ‘Boy I better put it together on the second lap. I made a really nice, smooth but pretty aggressive second lap. The momentum I carried got us a pole. It was awesome.”

Dodge drivers Jeremy Mayfield and Jimmy Spencer ran identical laps, but Mayfield got the third starting spot by being higher in the points. Spencer will start fourth, with Mike Skinner fifth. Matt Kenseth qualified sixth, followed by Jerry Nadeau, Ryan Newman, Michael Waltrip and defending race winner Elliott Sadler.

Sadler and Ricky Craven ran identical times, too, but Sadler is higher in points.

Gordon, of course, has been in the news a lot lately, and it’s not the good kind of news. Brooke Gordon filed for divorce last Friday, perhaps ending a seven-year marriage. Jeff Gordon has said he’s tried not to make it a distraction, but he hasn’t performed like he did in last year’s championship season.

Gordon’s non-Top 5 streak has reached 12 races, even after leading the most laps last week at Darlington. Gordon is sixth in points, 161 behind leader Sterling Marlin, but his best finish has a seventh at Rockingham.

“Our only performance that’s not been up to par this year has been Las Vegas,” Gordon said. “Other than that, we’ve run well enough to get Top 5s. Last week at Darlington, we ran well enough to win the race. We just haven’t had any good fortune come our way. Sterling’s had a lot of good fortune. That’s why he’s where he’s at in the points.

“We’re going to keep working hard and try to qualify up front, lead laps, run up front and eventually we’ll get into victory lane. Last weekend was a good qualifying run, this weekend was a good qualifying run. Those are things are only going to get confidence levels up, get momentum going. By all means, it has not been a horrible start to the season in our book.”

One could argue that it has been a horrible start for Robby Gordon, as he hasn’t finished higher than 13th and stands 27th in the points. But Friday, the other Gordon turned in a stellar performance. Second is his best qualifying effort since winning the pole at Atlanta five years ago.

Gordon was 13th fastest in the practice, but that was on new tires. When he went to scuffed tires for qualifying, he picked up the pace.

“The car stuck pretty good,” Gordon said. “We got a little bit tight coming off Turn 4 both (laps). I’m not going to say that was the difference in getting the pole or not, but it’s a lot better than where we started last week.”

Robby Gordon has raced here three times, but he’s taken to Bristol like oil to water. In those three previous races, Gordon hasn’t started higher than 13th and has finished 43rd, 42nd and 31st.

“Bristol is about survival but it’s also about luck,” Gordon said. “Too often it’s about being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. One moment you can be leading, and the next minute someone runs over you and puts you in the fence. The next thing you know, your guys are loading your car onto the hauler to go home.

“I’ve only run Bristol three times but I’ve gotten run over in about every race I’ve been in here. I was out there minding my own business, trying like heck not to bang into anybody else, and someone ran over the back of me. Bristol doesn’t seem like a very fair race track, but I guess it all shakes out evenly over the years among the teams.”

Nine-time Bristol winner Rusty Wallace qualified 15th, with Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin qualifying 16th. Steve Park, in his second race after a six-month injury recovery, was 34th.

Mark Martin, Terry Labonte, Joe Nemechek, Hut Stricklin, Rick Mast, Dick Trickle and Hermie Sadler earned provisionals, but none were charged under NASCAR’s new rules. When entry lists are 43 cars or fewer, no provisionals will be charged.

The green flag will be waved Sunday shortly after 1 p.m. ET for the 500-lap race.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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