Gordon Still Martinsville King

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Robbie Loomis ventured into the infield media center, where he was greeted by a No. 1 hand gesture from Bobby Hamilton.

Later, Hamilton told Loomis’ driver, Jeff Gordon, “I’ll kick your ass.”

But if you think there’s a war brewing between Hamilton and Gordon, think again. Hamilton was merely joking around with his fellow Chevy Monte Carlo driver.

But Hamilton was a bit upset that Gordon knocked him off the pole. Hamilton had nipped Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the provisional pole, but Gordon ripped off a 94.181 mph lap Friday to claim the pole for Sunday’s Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

After Hamilton’s joking threat, Gordon said, “I was doing that just to try to get to 15th.”

Gordon surprised himself with his fast lap, as he was only 25th fastest in practice.

“Last week at Texas, I practiced first and qualified 26th,” Gordon said. “I thought it would be nice to change it this weekend. Maybe this is the way we’re going to do it from now on: practice slow and qualify fast.”

Hamilton’s lap of 94.092 mph was .019 seconds slower than Gordon’s but it was good enough for the outside of the front row. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third at 94.064, but that was on his first qualifying lap. Junior bounced off the curb and spun on his second lap, which he said was going to be much quicker.

Terry Labonte had his best qualifying effort since winning the pole at Texas two years ago and will start fourth. Six-time Martinsville winner Rusty Wallace qualified fifth.

Bill Elliott, last week’s record-setting pole winner at Texas, qualified sixth, followed by Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Jimmy Spencer and rookie Ryan Newman.

Gordon has a stellar record here, with three victories and three poles. Gordon won the pole here last year, but the team brought a new car.

“We had a little bit different style race car,” Gordon said of last year’s race. It qualifies great, but we haven’t been successful with it in the race. We struggled with (the new car) in practice. I couldn’t get it to turn in the middle, it wouldn’t roll through the corners, didn’t have much drive off.

“We just kept working and working and working and made a lot of gains toward the end. Robbie made a few more adjustments, and they were obviously the right ones.”

Hamilton’s Andy Petree Racing team was fast throughout the day, backing up a sixth-place run in practice to post his best starting spot since a pole in this race four years ago. That race was run on a Monday, and Hamilton dominated it by leading 378 laps in winning. Rain is a possibility Sunday, so Hamilton hopes history can repeat itself.

“I knew if we didn’t slip much, we’d have a shot at it,” Hamilton said. “Martinsville is a good race track for us. If we have a race on Monday – well, the race I won here was on a Monday. So maybe that will play a part and help. This speed is about what I thought we would run.”

Earnhardt Jr. was none too pleased with himself after his qualifying run.

“I’m so pissed at myself,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I wish we could do it again because I think we would have really run a fast lap on the second lap. I made a mistake. I got up on the curve in Turn 4 and spun the car out. It’s a shame. It would have been so fast. It would have been a 19.90, I guarantee you.”

Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin was 29th, while Matt Kenseth, Monday’s winner at Texas Motor Speedway, qualified 26th.

Joe Nemechek drove the No. 26 Travis Carter Enterprises Ford for Frank Kimmel, who was at Nashville Superspeedway for the ARCA race. While Kimmel was fastest there, Nemechek was second slowest here.

Elliott Sadler, Jeff Green, Johnny Benson, Ken Schrader, Nemechek, Rick Mast and Andy Hillenburg took provisionals to make the race. Randy Renfrow was the only driver who failed to qualify.

The Virginia 500 gets the green flag Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

Evernham: Elledge is Top Choice
Team owner Ray Evernham said Jimmy Elledge is the top choice to be crew chief for Casey Atwood. Elledge recently stepped down as crew chief for Dale Jarrett, and Evernham is looking for a permanent replacement for Kevin Cram.

“I would say he’s the leading candidate for that job, yes,” Evernham said of Elledge.

Evernham said he’s already spoken with Elledge about the job and would talk to him again. Evernham, who owns the cars of Bill Elliott and Jeremy Mayfield and co-owns Atwood’s car with Jim Smith, didn’t want to say how soon he wanted to have a crew chief for Atwood.

“The worst thing you could do is put a timetable on that,” Evernham said. “You’ve got to make sure the mix is right, and that all the questions are answered because that’s an important position. It’s got to be right for him, it’s got to be right for us. When we finally do put somebody in that position, I want it to be the person that’s going to be there and not have all these changes.”

Atwood raced his rookie season in Evernham’s No. 19 Dodge, finishing 26th in the points with one pole and one top-five finish. But Evernham replaced him with Mayfield, buying into Smith’s Ultra Motorsports team to provide a seat for Atwood.

But Atwood has performed even worse than 2001. He’s 36th in the points through seven races, with a best finish of 18th. Evernham said the problem has been with the people leading Atwood’s crew.

“Right now, it’s definitely personnel,” Evernham said. “We’ve got to get that experience and that communication going on because everything I have is available to them to use. We’ve got to have people that will start using it.”

Petree-Jones Association Still Pending
Winston Cup team owner Andy Petree said Friday he is still talking to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones about a possible partnership in Petree’s two-car team. But even if the two could work something out, it wouldn’t affect this year’s activities, Petree said.

“It’s still alive,” Petree said of the possible deal. “That’s not something we’re working on to go racing this year. If we do the deal with Jerry and the Cowboys, it’ll be for next year.”

Petree and Jones met last weekend in Texas, but when asked if the deal is close to being finalized, Petree hesitated.

“I just look at any deal that it’s not done until it’s done,” Petree said. “That goes for sponsorship deals or deals like this. You can say, ‘We think it’s done, we think it’s real close.’ But it’s not done until it’s done. You may be a whole lot further away than you think.

“We have been talking for a long time, since last October. I’d like to think we’re further down the road, but we’re still not done with it.”

Petree continues to search for sponsorship for his idle No. 33 Chevy team. Preen ‘N Green is on the car for Talladega next weekend, but nothing else has been signed for driver Mike Wallace.

“We’re looking for anything and everything,” Petree said. “I’m working on a lot of different stuff.”

Gordon Files Counter Suit
Jeff Gordon has filed a counter suit against Brooke Gordon, charging that his dangerous profession makes him eligible for more than 50 percent distribution of the couple’s assets. Brooke filed for divorce last month, asking for alimony, the couple’s home in Highland Beach, Fla., use of cars, boats, an airplane and other assets.

Gordon’s counter suit, filed Wednesday in Palm Beach County by attorney Donald Sasser, is attempting to deny those demands.

“Due to the Husband’s extraordinary contributions to the acquisition of the funds as a result of his hazardous, life-threatening occupation, the Husband claims that he should be entitled to greater than 50 percent interest in the net marital estate,” the counter suit said.

Martinsville vs. Texas
Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell responded to Texas Motor Speedway officials' comments about the short track with a statement of his own Friday.

“Some people were quoted last week saying Martinsville shouldn’t be on the NASCAR Winston Cup schedule,” Campbell said. “That irritates not only me, but all the fans who have supported this track since I was just a boy.

“I think if you ask any of the fans here this weekend, they would say they’re here because Martinsville is one of their favorite tracks. I don’t think the fans want to see a race move anywhere, especially to some one-groove track that has probably had more problems in its five-year history than we’ve had in 55 years. If I were running the track, I’d be happy to have one race and get it right.”

TMS officials have been asking for a second Winston Cup date since the track opened. Texas had more than 180,000 on attendance for Monday’s rain-delayed race. Martinsville seats 91,000.

“Martinsville might not have as many seats as some tracks, but the races here are a lot more exciting than races at some of the places doing all of the talking,” Campbell said. “It just irritates the heck out of me when I hear some other track operator talking about big markets and all that other self-serving stuff.

“When it comes to excitement and competition, the fans think our track is one of the best, and by the way, one of the most affordable tracks on the circuit.”

Compton Ready for Double Duty
Stacy Compton will face the first weekend of double travel of his dual Winston Cup/Busch Series schedule this weekend. Compton will qualify his Winston Cup Pontiac, practice it Saturday morning and then head to Nashville for the Busch Series race.

Compton will miss Busch Series qualifying, with Mike Chase filling in at Nashville Superspeedway. Compton will also miss Winston Cup Happy Hour, with Darrell Waltrip driving the No. 14 car in that 45-minute session.

“We went and tested Nashville and ran really well down there,” Compton said. “We ran really well down there. I’m pretty excited about it. I really feel like we can go to Nashville and run good, and of course Martinsville is sort of been hometown for me, and we’ve always ran pretty good there. If it had to have happened at a track, I’m glad it happened at Martinsville first.”

Compton was also due to drive the Jim Harris/Mark Melling Dodge in the Craftsman Truck Series race here in Martinsville, but Waltrip is un-retiring for that event.

“Put some old geezer in there,” Compton said. “I told Jim Harris and Mark Melling, ‘Who else better to put in there?’ I think D.W. can go down there and win the thing. I don’t think there’s anybody any better at Martinsville than Darrell Waltrip.”

Changes to Schrader’s Crew
Ken Schrader’s MB2 Motorsports team has made some changes to its over-the-wall crew this weekend. Charlie Brock, the regular front-tire changer, will change the rear tires, while Mike Kaluka will change the front tires and Shawn Isman will carry the rear tires.

Kaluka comes from the No. 10 team, Schrader’s teammate, while Isman is a fabricator for Schrader’s team.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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