Gordon gets pole position for Dodge/Save Mart 350

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Associated Press

SONOMA, Calif. - Jeff Gordon could hardly believe it.

After an unusually aggressive qualifying lap Friday at Infineon Raceway, the four-time NASCAR champion found himself on the pole for the Nextel Cup race Sunday.

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''I felt like I left the door wide open for some of those guys to put us back a few spots,'' Gordon said.

His lap included a trip through the dirt in turn two, bouncing over numerous curbs and nearly banging off the concrete wall on the outside of the final turn on the 1.99-mile, 10-turn road course.

''We're on a mission,'' Gordon said. ''We're not happy with the way things have been going for us lately and all we can do is attack, attack, attack.''

The Chevy driver took his second pole in a row, third of the season and 49th of his career with a time of 1 minute, 15.968 seconds, breaking the record of 1:16.522 set last year by road-racing specialist Boris Said. Gordon's speed was 94.303 mph.

Gordon, the 10th of 42 drivers who made qualifying attempts for the Dodge/Save Mart 350, chalked up the record to the newly repaved track and a new tire from Goodyear. But he was surprised nobody was able to beat a lap he acknowledged wasn't very pretty.

''I got off the track a little bit over there in turn two,'' Gordon said. ''I can't seem to get away from that spot on the racetrack. That's the same thing we did last year, just not quite as far off the track.''

NASCAR's leading road race winner with seven victories has won three times here - twice from the pole.

Rusty Wallace and Kurt Busch also were quicker than Said's record, but couldn't match Gordon.

Wallace, driving a Dodge, was disappointed after running a lap of 1:16.072.

''When I saw (Gordon) go off course over there, I thought I could beat that,'' Wallace said. ''I thought I threw a pole away with that one. I didn't have any problem, but I looked down and thought I had the emergency brake on. I just thought the car had a lot more in it.''

Busch's Ford got around the course in 1:16.333. He said his team's decision to qualify on slightly used rather than new tires probably made the difference.

''It's a question where we were in a Catch-22,'' Busch said. ''Do we go conservative or do we go for the pole?

''I saw Gordon make his mistake and it opened the door up, but I knew that we just weren't quite good enough because we went out on scuffed tires instead of stickers.''

Gordon waited nervously for other contenders, including Said, defending race winner Robby Gordon, Ricky Rudd and Tony Stewart to take their shot.

Jeff Gordon said he told crew chief Robbie Loomis, ''I can't believe we're going to get this pole.''

But all of them had problems, with Rudd qualifying 12th, Stewart 17th, Said 19th and the other Gordon 24th.

Robby Gordon, who also won the road race last summer in Watkins Glen, N.Y., shrugged off the poor qualifying effort.

''It doesn't matter,'' he said. ''It's one lap. On Sunday, you just keep the fenders on the car and you'll be OK. It will make it exciting, though.''

Series leader Jimmie Johnson, whose car owner is Jeff Gordon, fared even worse, qualifying 34th. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who trails Johnson in the standings by just seven points, will start 20th in Sunday's 43-car field.

''It's different because the track is a lot faster,'' Earnhardt said. ''You've got to try to take it easy and not get over your head, but it's real easy to get over your head.''