DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It is the unlikeliest marriage of man and machine. Two rivals who wouldn't dare speak to each other as their stock cars rumbled throughout the country for 36 weeks of the year.
After years of in-house friction in the Ford family, Jack Roush and Robert Yates finally decided to make nice by merging their engine-building operations in the offseason.
The new empire showed plenty of muscle yesterday, filling up the top two qualifying slots for the Daytona 500 Sunday.
Greg Biffle, whose banged-up car couldn't even run here for the 2002 Daytona 500, snatched the pole with a time of 188.387 mph, followed by Elliott Sadler (188.355).
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (third at 188.210) prevented a top four Ford sweep. Ricky Rudd, racing for the Woods Brothers team, was fourth at 188.162 and Dale Jarrett - Saturday's Budweiser Shootout winner - was fifth at 187.884.
Biffle and Sadler were the only drivers to snag a spot in the starting grid. The next 28 positions will be determined during Thursday's 125-mile qualifying races - 14 from each race. Eight more slots will be filled based on yesterday's qualifying results, and the last five slots will be set based on last year's car-owner points.
"It was really clear that the way Robert and I were conducting our affairs were not going to work," Roush said, his driver Biffle sitting next to him addressing the media. "And so Ford said, `Why don't you guys cooperate?' I offered to share an engine. He tapped me on the shoulder at Atlanta and said, `Hey, I know you're getting ready to build a shop in North Carolina, why don't you buy half of mine?' We're 50-50 partners to the dirt right now."
Early returns do not bode well for the rest of gang along pit road.
Under cold, windy conditions - with gusts upwards of 20 mph - Biffle went 24th and breezed to his first Cup pole in 43 starts.
NOTE: A worker at Daytona International Speedway was struck and killed by a paraplegic driver going more than 100 mph during a race for compact cars. The worker, 44-year-old Roy H. Weaver III, was standing in the middle of the track picking up debris during a caution period when he was hit by a car driven by Ray Paprota of Birmingham, Ala..
Paprota, who doesn't have use of his legs and drives a car equipped with hand controls, was trying to catch up the main pack of cars after a two-car crash at the opposite end of the track brought out a yellow flag. Weaver was struck in Turn 2 on the 2 1/2 -mile trioval.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.