Gordon wins pole for Virginia 500

Saturday, April 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) _ When he tested at Martinsville Speedway a few weeks ago, Jeff Gordon made only one qualifying run and felt great.

His return went just as smoothly Friday.

Gordon bumped fellow short-track ace Rusty Wallace out of the top spot with a run at 94.087 mph around the .526-mile oval, and it held up, giving him the top spot for Sunday's Virginia 500 Winston Cup race.

``I knew we had a good car all day, but I had no idea it was going to feel that good for qualifying,'' Gordon said. ``The thing really stuck good, turned good. I really couldn't have asked for it to do much more.''

The pole is the 35th of Gordon's career, and his first here. He started first at Martinsville once before when qualifying was washed out.

Wallace, the active leader with six victories on the oldest, short track in NASCAR's premier series, will start second after a run at 93.994, the first of five straight Fords behind Gordon's Chevrolet.

``I'm real happy to get second if I couldn't get first,'' Wallace said. ``It gives us good pit selection out there. To me there's only two good pits that I like, and I got one of them for Sunday, so that's good.''

Both Gordon and Wallace felt like they earned a leg up on the field.

``This is a very difficult place to win poles at, and as far as I'm concerned it's probably the most important place to win the pole because of that No. 1 pit stall over there,'' Gordon said. ``There's just nothing like having that No. 1 pit stall at Martinsville. It's a huge thing.''

The track this year widened pit road by 10 feet, but Gordon said pit road is still very tight, so having a clear shot out of the stall is key.

Wallace agreed, noting the No. 1 stall and No. 12, the first after a break in the pit road wall, allow for unobstructed pit departures.

``I firmly believe track position is going to be everything,'' he said.

Virginia natives Jeff Burton and Ricky Rudd make up the second row, followed by Robert Pressley and Jeremy Mayfield. The Chevys of Jerry Nadeau, Joe Nemechek, Bobby Hamilton and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are next.

Series rookie Casey Atwood will start 14th as the first Dodge off the line, and Tony Stewart will be the first Pontiac. He's starting 16th.

Gordon said the problems of qualifying at Martinsville, with its long straightaways and tight turns at both ends, are a constant concern.

``You're trying to be patient but be aggressive at the same time, and that's two things that don't mix too well,'' he said.

Defending race champion Mark Martin qualified 36th, and Stewart, who set a track record in qualifying here last October, was 16th.

Points leader Dale Jarrett will start 13th.