All-Gordon front row for F.C. 500

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Jeff Gordon heated up a cold Cheez-It pole day on Friday by shattering the track record at Bristol Motor Speedway with a speed of 127.216 miles per hour.
   Gordon's second lap in the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet easily bested the old track record speed of 126.370 miles per hour set by Steve Park two years ago. He credited a testing visit to the speedway two weeks ago in helping to secure his first ever pole position at BMS.
   "We had come real close to winning the pole in the past," said the four-time Winston Cup champ. "We had come in second about five times. We didn't seem to be able to put it all together. Today, the car was strong and we got a lucky draw going out last. We were loose on the first lap, but put together a nice, smooth second lap.
   "I think our testing was an advantage getting laps and information that we hadn't gotten here in a long, long time.
   Joining Jeff on the front row for today's Food City 500 is Robby Gordon, no relation, who posted a speed of 126.478 miles per hour in the No. 31 Cingular Chevy.
   "We're getting better every weekend," said the outside polesitter. "We take a couple of laps before qualifying (in practice) that we try to cut a qualifying mode. I think that we are more cautious than some other teams. This morning we went out and got comfortable with the race track. Then, we started working on qualifying.
   "When we were 13th in the morning practice session, we knew that we were pretty good. That was on sticker tires, while some other guys had scuffed tires. When we qualified, we were a little bit tight getting off turn four both times. I thought that was the difference in getting the pole or not."
   Robby answered a question on why his hot lap was so far ahead of teammates Kevin Harvick, the 22nd fastest qualifier, and Jeff Green, who won the pole for last August's Sharpie 500, but was only 24th on Friday. "I happened to draw the furthest qualifying number back," Gordon explained. "It allowed me to gather information from where Kevin and Jeff were.
   "At other tracks, I was the fourth or fifth car on the track. Basically, they were coming to me and asking me what my car was doing. We're trying to work together. Obviously, we have a little different driving styles and have to take that into affect."
   Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the No. 19 UAW Dodge, was the third fastest in the time trials at 126.461 miles per hour. Prior to Bristol, his best qualifying effort of 2002 was an 18th. "We came off the truck good," said Mayfield. "We felt good about our chances of running in the top 15 somewhere. We now have a good starting spot.
   "The guys worked real hard on the car and it kept getting better and better. We made good decisions and had a great car for qualifying."
   Veteran Jimmy Spencer took the number four spot in the No. 41 Target Dodge and Mike Skinner posted a fifth quickest time in the No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet.
   Rounding out the top ten were the No. 17 Dewalt Ford of Matt Kenseth, Jerry Nadeau, rookie Ryan Newman, Michael Waltrip and defending race champion Elliott Sadler.
   The most recent Bristol winner Tony Stewart qualified 13th, while nine-time Bristol winner Rusty Wallace will start 15th. Big names further back in the field include Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 23rd, Dale Jarrett in 25th and Bobby Labonte in 32nd.
   Among the notables that had to take provisional starts due to make the race were Mark Martin, winner of the pole position for last year's Food City 500, and Terry Labonte, a two-time winner at BMS. Martin's 37th fastest time was his career-worst qualifying effort at Bristol. For Labonte, it marked the fourth time this season he has relied on a provisional.
   The lap of the day belonged to Jeff Gordon, who scored his 40th career Winston Cup pole position and 7th on a short track. It was Gordon's first pole since 16 races ago in Richmond. He barely missed posting the fast time last week at Darlington, but was edged by Ricky Craven. The defending Winston Cup champion is now focused on ending a losing streak that extends to last September at Kansas Speedway.
   "I'm excited about our starting position and how well the car is running because I think track position is going to be super important," said Gordon. "I was saying earlier today at a race track like Bristol, your race begins on Friday, how well you qualify, based on our track position and pit location.
   "It all beings today. Today, we helped ourselves out a whole lot for Sunday's race. If we continue to lead laps and run up front, eventually we will get to victory lane."
   Before the Winston Cup cars took to the track, rookie Scott Riggs won his first career pole in the Busch Series with a new track record speed of 126.270 miles per hour. "We came here a couple of weeks ago and got about three hours testing in between the rain," said the driver of the No. 10 Nesquik Ford. "It was important. We made changes to the car based on this.
   "The car was faster and faster with every single change. It was exciting to come back here and duplicate that today."
   On the outside pole was Jeff Green with a speed of 125.773 miles per hour. "I was a little too loose to get on the throttle soon enough," said Green, who drives the No. 21 Rockwell Chevrolet in the Busch Series. "I don't like starting on the outside, but it's easier up front. The guys give and take a little more than they do back in the pack."
   A piece of irony for Green, driver of the No. 10 Nesquik car prior to this season, was finishing runner-up to his former car. Rounding out the top three in qualifying was Riggs' current teammate Jason Keller in the No. 57 Albertson's Ford.
   On to today's event, Jeff Gordon, a four-time winner of the Food City 500, said that cold weather this weekend could make driving the track seem like the August night race at BMS. "If it stays cool like this, these conditions are going to be more like night conditions," said Gordon. "We've been really successful here when it's not sunny and slick during the daytime.
   "Managing your tires is a big thing. It's all about getting heat into your tires. I think the cooler conditions have the track extremely fast."
   Forty-three cars are scheduled take to the field at 1 p.m. today for 41st running of the BMS spring race, which is now celebrating a 10th anniversary of sponsorship from Food City.