ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Kyle Petty remained king of the hill at North Carolina Motor Speedway, setting a qualifying record of 149.926 mph yesterday on the way to his fourth pole in the past five tries on the mile oval.
Petty, who has also won the Goodwrench 500 each of the past two years, remained the favorite to do it again after breaking his ++ track record of 149.461, set in October when he barely outran Ken Schrader.
The toughest competition this time was provided by Bill Elliott, who drove a Ford Thunderbird to a not-so-close 149.272. Nobody else even made it over 149 on the sunny, 65-degree afternoon.
Yesterday's run came in a different Pontiac Grand Prix SE from the ones in which he has been so dominant here the past two years.
"The Duke [the old car] was built in 1990 and ran 14 races that year and about 10 races last year," Petty said. "It was flexing so bad by the end of last year that we knew it was time to retire it.
"This one we call Rhett, like in Rhett Butler from 'Gone with the Wind.' It was built at the same time and they're just about identical, but this car doesn't have as many races on it."
The quick lap appeared to surprise Petty, whose practice speeds had been nowhere near as fast.
"I thought I could run a 60," he added, referring to a lap of 25.60 seconds. "I don't know where a 42 [25.42 seconds] came from."
Petty has five career poles on this track.
Petty, 31, son of longtime NASCAR stock car king Richard Petty, earned himself another shot at the Unocal 76 Challenge bonus, which this weekend stands at $190,000. The bonus, which builds at $7,600 a race, goes to any driver winning both the pole and the race.
Petty earned a Winston Cup record $294,450 in 1990, then added $131,450, including a $68,400 bonus.
Mark Martin was third at 148.449, followed by Brett Bodine at 147.581, both in Thunderbirds.