Tempers flare up yet again

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   BRISTOL -- It was just another typical Bristol race weekend, with many commenting that the most exciting stop on the Winston Cup tour could double as a WWF card.
   Tempers were that hot.
   Over the course of the evening, the main event would have featured Jeff Gordon and runner-up Rusty Wallace, with a strong undercard that included Dale Earnhardt Jr. vs. Ward Burton, Jimmie Johnson vs. Robby Gordon in a California bullrope match and Hut Stricklin vs. Jeremy Mayfield.


   Jeff Gordon matched his feat in the spring at BMS, winning the pole on Friday for the Sharpie 500. Gordon's fast lap of 124.034 miles per hour knocked fan favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. from the perch.
   Gordon talked about his third pole this season and 42nd overall. "Seems like it's been ten years since I've been here," said Gordon after winning a pole for the first time since Martinsville. "Qualifying just hasn't been our thing lately. Coming to a short track where you don't have to worry about aerodynamics enabled us to concentrate on getting the car working through the corners.
   "I think that qualifying up front is more important to our team than for most other teams. When you qualify well like we have in the past, you learn how to run your races from that position. When you don't run well, you have to rethink your approach to the race and the strategy."
   Earnhardt was only 12 one thousands of a second behind Gordon's time of 15.470 seconds. The speed registered by the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet was 123.937 miles per hour.
   Third in the time trials was Michael Waltrip, making it a 1-2-3 sweep of Chevrolets in the top positions. Rusty Wallace was fourth place in his Ford, while Bill Elliott rounded out the top five in his Dodge.
   Four drivers -- Hermie Sadler, Carl Long, Morgan Shepard and Tim Sauter -- failed to make the field for Saturday night's main event. In all the field for the 2002 Sharpie 500 from positions 1-43 were separated by less than three tenths of a second.
   Former Winston Cup crew chief and current Fox television analyst Jeff Hammmond was walking around the garage area at BMS with a cast on his right arm following an incident in Huntersville, NC on Monday. Hammond, a Hammond, a longtime rodeo competitor, was involved in the steer wrestling event when he broke his right arm. Doctors told Hammond, also a former football player at East Carolina, it would take 6-8 weeks for the arm to heal.
   Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark and NAPA Chevy driver Michael Waltrip made an announcement on Saturday the track would guarantee at least 30 lead changes for the upcoming NAPA 500. Should there be less in the 500-mile race, the speedway will refund $1 off the ticket price for every change under 30 in one of next year's Winston Cup events.
   Odds are pretty good the track won't have to cut prices as in this spring's MBNA 500, there were 34 lead changes. Over the last ten races, AMS has averaged 26.3 lead changes per event.