Bill Elliott wins NASCAR pole

March 8, 2002 at 7:04 PM
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HAMPTON, Ga., March 8 (UPI) -- The past and the future of NASCAR Winston Cup racing formed the front row Friday for Sunday's MBNA America 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bill Elliott, who is attempting to recapture some of his past glory, won the pole Friday with a lap at 191.542 miles per hour in his Dodge Intrepid.

Ryan Newman, a rookie for Penske Racing South, will start on the outside of the front row after qualifying his Ford Taurus at 191.463 mph.

Newman was on the pole for most of Friday's qualification session but was unable to withstand a late speed onslaught by the native of Dawsonville, Ga. It was the 52nd career Winston Cup pole for Elliott while Newman was denied his first.

"Out on pit road, we changed the car quite a bit from practice and Mike Ford, my crew chief, made some changes that worked," said Elliott, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and 1988 Winston Cup champion. "Lo and behold, we were right on the money. Today, I was able to get the feel I was looking for and put the Dodge back out front."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. put his Chevrolet Monte Carlo third at 191.337 mph, followed by Kurt Busch's Ford at 190.745. Jimmy Spencer's Dodge rounded out the top five at 190.620 mph.

Elliott has remained a fan favorite despite the fact he has won just one race since 1994. That came in last November's Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"Over the last several years, I was wondering where I was going to end up, but the fans that supported me through the 1980s have stuck with me through thick and thin," Elliott said. "A lot of friends and family come out here and support me and that's the kind of support you have to have. For us to come here and run as well as I have today, that's one part of what we have to do."

Elliott enjoyed success on the original layout of Atlanta Motor Speedway, an oval that featured two sweeping turns and two short straightaways. The track was reconfigured in 1997 to a quad-oval design.

"It seems like it's been difficult for me to get a hold of the new layout," Elliott said. "I typically have not run well here with this new design. They went on a certain direction to change some things. We got off the truck and ran decent, but we finally have a little bit of a handle on the current configuration. It's a little different than it used to be, but it's still Atlanta.

"If you hit your race car right that particular day, you might be able to pull it off. This is one step of what we have to do. Still have to run 325 laps here on Sunday afternoon."

While Elliott will start on the pole, teammate Jeremy Mayfield had to take a provisional and will start 40th.

Jeff Green was the last driver to make the field on qualification speed and will start 36th. Provisional starting positions were taken, in order, by Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Mayfield, Casey Atwood, Brett Bodine and Dick Trickle.

Ron Hornaday and Carl Long were the only two drivers who did not make the field.

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