Elliott Puts Dodge In First

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HAMPTON, Ga. – It’s been 10 years since Bill Elliott has had much to celebrate in front of his “home crowd” at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Elliott hasn’t won a race at the 1.5-mile Georgia track since 1992. Prior to Friday afternoon, he hadn’t won a pole at AMS since 1991.

On Friday, Elliott looked like the “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” of old, much to the delight of the fans at AMS. The driver of Evernham Motorsports’ No. 9 Dodge tore off a fast lap of 191.542 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s MBNA America 500.

The fifth driver from the end, Elliott edged rookie Ryan Newman for the top starting spot. Newman ripped off an early fast lap of 191.463 mph and appeared to be a lock for the pole when Elliott snatched it away from him.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified third, followed by Kurt Busch, Jimmy Spencer, Ricky Craven, Dale Jarrett, defending race winner Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Johnny Benson.

The pole was Elliott’s fifth at Atlanta and first since last November at Homestead. He won the pole there and went on to win the race, his first victory since the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in September of 1994.

Elliott said the feeling of his recent “resurgence” began midway through last season, but has only been possible because of the resources and personnel available to him at Evernham Motorsports.

“This all began for me last year,” Elliott said. “Ray (Evernham) believed in me and gave me a lot of support, and this team has really given me a lot of support. I’m just a small piece of the puzzle here.

“They’ve put great equipment underneath me here, and I just go out there and drive the car. The car did what it needed to do (Friday), and I did what I needed to do. It’s great to be able to win the pole here at Atlanta, though. The fans here have stuck with me through thick and thin. It’s just great to be able come back here and finally have something to be happy about.”

Since 1992, Elliott’s best starting position at AMS, prior to this Sunday, was last year’s fall race when he put his Dodge on the third row (sixth). He’s had only two other top-10 starting positions in the past 10 years at Atlanta.

Elliott’s teammate, Jeremy Mayfield, and his No. 19 Evernham Motorsports team came to Atlanta to test recently, and Elliott’s team used Mayfield’s team’s notes. The ironic thing about that is that Mayfield was only 38th-fastest on Friday afternoon.

“It’s really hard to say what happened there, but I believe a lot of that has to do with the fact that Jeremy and his team are still new to each other and they’re still getting used to each other,” Elliott said. “It’s all about communication, and they’re still working a lot of that stuff out. They’ll get that communication down, but it’s going to take a bit of time for them.”

Newman showed last year in the Busch Series what a great qualifier he is, winning five poles. He also won a Winston Cup pole at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in May for the Coca-Cola 600.

Last week, he was edged out for the pole at Las Vegas by Todd Bodine by a miniscule .011 seconds. Elliott beat Newman for Friday’s pole by just 0.012 seconds.

“Bill had an awesome lap,” Newman said. “I watched it on TV, and it was heartbreaking. But to come up from 18th in practice to qualifying second is a great effort by the ALLTEL crew. That’s two weeks in a row that we’ve been beaten by a thousandth-of-a-second, but nevertheless, it’s just an honor to be able to start on the front row here in Atlanta for my first Winston Cup start here.”

Newman started on the pole at Atlanta for his first Busch Series start here last spring.

Newman qualified approximately an hour before Elliott in the sunlight, while Elliott’s lap was made under cloud cover.

“Our guys did an awesome job working and focusing on the weather change,” Newman said. “When we tested here it was 35 degrees and cold and the wind was blowing pretty good. We come back and it’s 70 degrees and even though the wind wasn’t blowing quite as hard, the temperature change was just enough to help Bill out there a little bit at the end of the qualifying session.”

Drivers who had to take provisionals for Sunday's race were Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Jeremy Mayfield, Casey Atwood, Brett Bodine and Dick Trickle. Drivers that failed to qualify were Ron Hornaday in No. 57 CLR Ford and Carl Long.

Current Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin qualified 12th. Bobby Labonte qualified 18th, defending Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon was 19th and Jeff Burton was 30th.

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