Better late than ever, W. Burton gets pole As sun sets at Pocono, fast run bumps J. Gordon

July 25, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

LONG POND, Pa. -- Ward Burton almost bounced into the post-qualifying interview at Pocono International Raceway yesterday evening. His son Jeb, 5, was riding on his shoulders and his daughter Sarah, 11, holding his hand, her eyes sparkling.

"This is only the second pole I've ever seen Daddy win," Sarah said. "I'm awful proud of him."

For much of the afternoon, it looked as if Jeff Gordon would claim his sixth pole of the season and start still another Winston Cup race as the favorite.

But as the sun sank lower in the sky, heading toward sunset, Burton pulled his Pontiac onto the 2.5-mile race track. He had calculated that Gordon's qualifying run had been a full half-second faster than any lap Burton's Pontiac had run during practice, and he realized a half-second was quite a lot to make up, but he put his foot down and came back with a Pennsylvania 500 event-record run of 168.805 mph, .556 of a second faster than Gordon's Chevrolet.

"Qualifying late, the temperature changes," Burton said, as his family settled around him. "Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's not. But I noticed the last 15 or 20 cars were going faster. A half-second, it's a bunch to make up, but there's a long way to go around this race track, and looking at it that way, it wasn't that much."

Gordon, who will start on the outside of the front row, shrugged off being bumped out of the top stop.

"The last time we were here, I brushed the wall off four, and still ended up winning the pole," he said, recalling his qualifying run for the Pocono 500 last month. "But this is one track where you can find a lot [of speed] out there. If you just pick up a little bit in each corner, half a second is do- able. This time, I never got that great lap."

Burton did, and it gave him his fifth career pole, as many as Gordon has this season. But it is Burton's second pole in five weeks. And it provided some joy to the driver, who not only had a bad week last week at New Hampshire, where he finished 23rd, but a bad two years.

The last time Burton saw victory lane was Oct. 22, 1995 at Rockingham -- 77 races ago.

"I did so well when I came into Winston Cup," Burton said. "I spent seven years climbing up from the bottom to get here, and I won on every level. Then, within two years of arriving in this series, I had won a race and a pole. I did so well in 1995 -- and now it has been a year and a half without a win. It has been hard for me to deal with, and I try not to take it out on people around me. I've just had to learn to deal with disappointment and, you might say, personal trials."

Burton looks at this pole as another step toward his team getting back to victory lane.

"If I have a good, strong car, no one can out-drive me," Burton said. "I know that. And now, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. For a while there, I couldn't."

NOTES: Dale Earnhardt had his second-best qualifying run of the season, posting the ninth-fastest speed (167.317 mph). The firing of Jerry Nadeau by the Bill Elliott/Dan Marino team didn't help the team's qualifying results. Nadeau's replacement, Jimmy Horton, was 45th of 46 qualifiers at 162.722. Nadeau, now driving the Cartoon Network Ford car that came available when Lake Speed resigned last week, was 31st. Both will have to try again today to make the field. Veteran Dave Marcis made his sixth race of the season with his best qualifying run of 1998 (166.325, good for 25th).

Qualifying

1. (22) Ward Burton, Pontiac, 168.805.

2. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 168.249.

3. (2) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 167.936.

4. (18) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 167.838.

5. (42) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 167.785.

6. (6) Mark Martin, Ford, 167.698.

7. (91) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, 167.579.

8. (81) Kenny Wallace, Ford, 167.401.

9. (3) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 167.317.

10. (21) Michael Waltrip, Ford, 167.243.

11. (88) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 167.237.

12. (16) Ted Musgrave, Ford, 167.097.

13. (10) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 167.078.

14. (28) Kenny Irwin, Ford, 166.883.

15. (46) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 166.877.

16. (36) Ernie Irvan, Pontiac, 166.846.

17. (33) Ken Schrader, Chevrolet, 166.710.

18. (43) John Andretti, Pontiac, 166.698.

19. (99) Jeff Burton, Ford, 166.636.

20. (41) Steve Grissom, Chevrolet, 166.549.

21. (23) Jimmy Spencer, Ford, 166.522.

22. (5) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 166.503.

23. (97) Chad Little, Ford, 166.420.

24. (50) Ricky Craven, Chevrolet, 166.408.

9- 25. (71) Dave Marcis, Chevrolet, 166.325.

Failed to qualify+

(1) Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet, 166.322.

(31) Mike Skinner, Chevrolet, 166.269.

(12) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, 166.226.

(75) Rick Mast, Ford, 166.199.

(94) Bill Elliott, Ford, 166.027.

(9) Jerry Nadeau, Ford, 165.963.

(44) Kyle Petty, Pontiac, 165.789.

(7) Geoff Bodine, Ford, 165.776.

(40) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet, 165.593.

(13) Wally Dallenbach, Ford, 165.517.

(98) Rich Bickle, Ford, 165.514.

(4) Bobby Hamilton, Chevrolet, 165.505.

(90) Dick Trickle, Ford, 165.250.

(77) Robert Pressley, Ford, 165.198.

(26) Johnny Benson, Ford, 165.020.

(30) Derrike Cope, Pontiac, 164.384.

(11) Brett Bodine, Ford, 164.276.

(78) Gary Bradberry, Ford, 164.039.

(79) Randy MacDonald, Chevrolet, 163.842.

(35) Jimmy Horton, Pontiac, 162.722.

(96) Hut Stricklin, Chevrolet, 162.256.

Pub Date: 7/25/98

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