Jarrett regains form to grab Daytona pole

Johnson stays strong, locks up second position

Auto Racing

February 14, 2005|By Ed Hinton | Ed Hinton,ORLANDO SENTINEL

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dale Jarrett blasted back from the past yesterday. And Jimmie Johnson just kept on blazing.

Jarrett won the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500 with a qualifying lap at 188.312 mph in a Ford, and Johnson locked up the other front-row starting spot with the second-best speed, 188.170 in a Chevrolet.

Only the front-row starters locked in starting spots for the race but, under NASCAR's new qualifying rules, the top 35 teams in car owner points are guaranteed starting positions.

All yesterday's time trials did for everyone but Jarrett and Johnson was determine where they will start in Thursday's two 150-mile qualifying races.

For Jarrett, 48, this was a major resurgence. The three-time Daytona 500 winner hadn't been much of a factor here since 2000, when he won both the pole and the race.

For Johnson, 29, this was more of the same soaring momentum that made him NASCAR's hottest driver last fall, when he won four of the last six races and carried over to his solid win of the Budweiser Shootout bonus race here Saturday night.

Jarrett hasn't won a Nextel Cup race in nearly two years, but he was confident his Robert Yates Racing team could return him to his status as the man to beat in the Daytona 500. Yesterday, he followed through.

"I think we can be considered a team and a car to beat next Sunday." he said.

As to how much he impressed younger competitors, some of whom weren't even in the Cup series when he was strong here, Jarrett had his doubts.

"Some of these guys were still in high school five years ago, so it didn't really matter to them what I was doing - winning the pole or the Daytona 500." he said.

Whoever is at the wheel, a fast car turns heads, and Jarrett figured that would help him regain what he hasn't had here in recent years: help in the drafting lines, where aerodynamic pushes and pulls are so vital in restrictor- plate racing.

"I know that in the past, when we haven't been the quickest here, I would look and figure out who had the faster cars, and those are the people I want to get hooked up with. I think that's going to be beneficial to us." Jarrett said.

Since 2001, everybody has wanted to hook up with the dominant Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolets of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip, who between them have won three of the past four Daytona 500s.

But yesterday, Earnhardt was only 39th fastest and Waltrip 33rd. This, on top of Earnhardt's struggle to a seventh-place finish in the Shootout.

Both Jarrett and Johnson said they expected Earnhardt and Waltrip to race better, "but I'm not sure the dominance that they've shown is going to be there." Jarrett said.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Daytona 500 facts

What: NASCAR Nextel Cup season opener and premier event

Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

Track size and shape: 2.5-mile high-banked tri-oval

Capacity: 185,000

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Defending champion: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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