Flooding gives Marlin Pocono pole

Saturday, June 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) _ Sterling Marlin was sitting in the hauler of teammate Jimmy Spencer, watching golf and telling stories when he was informed that he'd won the pole for the Pocono 500.

But Marlin got his first pole of the season without turning a wheel when ground water that accumulated over the last week caused cancellation of Friday's qualifying session.

``That was a heck of a lap, Sterling,'' Spencer kidded him.

The 43-car field was set on the basis of Winston Cup points. And as the leader, Marlin wound up with the big prize for Sunday's race.

Many areas of the surface at the 2 1/2-mile Pocono International Raceway were wet from water seeping through the asphalt. Three inches of rain fell Thursday, bringing the total for the last week to 8.

All activities at the track were brought to a halt after the ARCA Series cars practiced in the morning. It was then that NASCAR noticed water on the track, preventing Winston Cup practice and qualifying.

The sanctioning body then had ditches dug at different spots around the track, but they immediately began filling with water. Now, NASCAR hopes continuing to work through the night will permit practice Saturday.

``They'll just keep digging trying to alleviate it,'' NASCAR spokeswoman Danielle Frye said. ``They want to let the water come out someplace besides the track.''

Marlin said the rain played havoc with the preparations of all the drivers.

``This is the third time we've been here in the past month and a half,'' he said. ``We got to run about a half a day.

``Hopefully, they'll get the problem fixed overnight and we'll get to run some

Rookie Jimmie Johnson, denied a chance to win his fourth pole, will have the outside of the front row. Johnson, a winner last Sunday in Dover, Del., has the most poles and is tied with Marlin, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth for the most wins with two.

Perhaps the most fortunate of the drivers was Johnson's car owner, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon. He will start third for the second week in a row without taking a lap.

Last week, Gordon got to slide into that position when several drivers changed cars or engines and were forced to the rear of the field.

``I'm beat, I'm worn out,'' Gordon said, then laughed. ``That was a heck of an effort.''

Rain has been a problem for some time in this area. During a test last week, only Rusty Wallace, who will start fifth, got on the track but Marlin said Wallace was not able to run a lap at top speed.

On Friday, there was no question the cars could not take to the track.

``It was like somebody turned on a hose,'' Marlin said. ``The water just kept seeping out.''

It was the second time in the modern era of NASCAR that water seeping through the asphalt curtailed qualifying. In 1998, the cars were unable to take their timed runs on a Friday. That time, however, the field was set in qualifying the next day.

The track said there was little it could do. The water table in the area, where there have been some road closures, is reported to be about 17 inches above normal.

``We have had 5 inches of rain in the last two days,'' the track said in a statement. ``We have run 500-mile races for more than 30 years and have never encountered this problem.''

Kenseth will start fourth and four-time Pocono winner Wallace fifth. They will be followed by Mark Martin, Stewart, Kurt Busch, four-time Pocono winner Bill Elliott and defending race champion Ricky Rudd.