Mayfield beats dark to get pole for Diehard

New restrictor plates slow qualifying field

Auto Racing

April 15, 2000|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Winston Cup stock car drivers haven't run in this much darkness since the revenuers used to chase their ancestors' hotrods over back mountain roads in those storied moonshine-running days.

But last night, by the time qualifying for tomorrow's Diehard 500 was nearing an end, darkness had settled. Jeff Burton took his car on the track for the final qualifying run of the day at 8: 40 p.m. Somehow, it seemed a relief when his oil pump seized and he couldn't finish his two-lap trial on this 2.66-mile tri-oval, with its leering high banks and menacing curves.

The only illumination cast on the track came from a single row of lights above each of the two rows of grandstands on the front stretch and a single row of lights on the backstretch. The turns were in eerie darkness.

But the fading light did not stop Jeremy Mayfield, who made his run as evening light faded. He pushed his Ford around the track at 186.969 mph to capture his first pole of the season and the third of his seven-year career.

"That's pretty cool," said Mayfield, who will be seeking his second career victory tomorrow in the Diehard 500. "We've been struggling all year, but everyone has been working so hard. Everybody has been working their butts off. This was a good lap."

Mayfield's pole speed was 11.362 mph slower than Joe Nemecheck's pole-sitting speed last October and 1.385 mph slower than Mark Martin averaged when winning this race in a caution-free run in 1997.

It was not racing in the dark that slowed the cars, however. The culprit is a new, more limiting restrictor plate that further reduces engine power by reducing the airflow to the motor by 1/32 of an inch.

Bill Elliott, who dominated superspeedway racing before the coming of restrictor plates, took the outside pole with a lap of 186.939. A third Ford driver, Dale Jarrett (186.747), was third fastest.

"You could see," said Jarrett. "The dark wasn't a problem. If we were running 210 mph, it would have been a problem. But with what we were running you don't feel like you're going anywhere."

The first Chevrolet to make the starting field belonged to Dale Earnhardt (186.518), whose team had to do more work than most yesterday. Earnhardt's car did not pass NASCAR's pre-qualifying inspection, and while Earnhardt made his way back from a turkey hunting trip in Georgia, the team rebuilt the car's rear end.

"We tried to make a competitive car, and NASCAR didn't like it," said car owner Richard Childress, whose driver is seeking to join Buddy Baker as the only winners of three straight races here.

Lineup at Talladega, Ala.

1. (12) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, 186.969 mph.

2. (94) Bill Elliott, Ford, 186.936

3. (88) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 186.747

4. (3) Dale Earnhardt, Chevy, 186.518

5. (6) Mark Martin, Ford, 186.354

6. (8) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevy, 186.173

7. (40) Sterling Marlin, Chevy, 186.108

8. (31) Mike Skinner, Chevy, 186.039

9. (22) Ward Burton, Pontiac, 186.01

10. (28) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 185.978

11. (7) Michael Waltrip, Chevy, 185.953

12. (42) Kenny Irwin, Chevy, 185.945

13. (10) Johnny Benson, Pontiac, 185.873

14. (97) Chad Little, Ford, 185.844

15. (32) Scott Pruett, Ford, 185.664

16. (93) Dave Blaney, Pontiac, 185.643

17. (2) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 185.571

18. (27) Mike Bliss, Pontiac, 185.571

19. (77) Robert Pressley, Ford, 185.643

20. (26) Jimmy Spencer, Ford, 185.441

21. (44) Kyle Petty, Pontiac, 185.413

22. (9) Stacey Compton, Ford, 185.384

23. (90) Ed Berrier, Ford, 185.326

24. (33) Joe Nemechek, Chevy, 185.101

25. (43) John Andretti, Pontiac, 185.094

26. (4) Bobby Hamilton, Chevy, 185.008

27. (15) Ted Musgrave, Ford, 184.751

28. (25) Jerry Nadeau, Chevy, 184.633

29. (50) Ricky Craven, Chevy, 184.502

30. (71) Dave Marcis, Chevy, 184.466

31. (5) Terry Labonte, Chevy, 184.413

32. (75) Wally Dallenbach, Ford, 184.211

33. (13) Robby Gordon, Ford, 184.182

34. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevy, 184.136

35. (17) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 184.133

36. (36) Ken Schrader, Chevy, 183.959

37. (55) Kenny Wallace, Chevy, 183.91

38. (60) Dick Trickle, Chevy, 183.899

39. (1) Steve Park, Chevy, 183.762

40. (16) Kevin Lepage, Ford, 183.677

41. (41) Gary Bradberry, Chevy, 183.508

42. (14) Rick Mast, Chevy, 183.297

43. (20) Tony Stewart, Pontiac, 183.01

44. (21) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 182.216

45. (66) Darrell Waltrip, Ford, 182.05

46. (18) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 181.967

47. (11) Brett Bodine, Ford, 181.811

48. (99) Jeff Burton, Ford, DNS.

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