DOVER, Del. (AP) - Although he is yet to achieve the status of Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte proved again Friday that he knows the fastest way around one of NASCAR's most difficult tracks.
For the second time in a row, Labonte beat Gordon in qualifying at Dover Downs International Speedway, turning a fast mile in his Pontiac at 152.788 mph. Gordon, looking to make history by winning his fourth straight race at the Monster Mile, will start his Chevrolet second Sunday in the Miller 500 after a lap of 151.841.
"This race car really stuck," said Labonte, one of the few drivers to overcome a slick track. "But we had to do a little chasing today because it wasn't quite right when we got here."
So slick was the high-banked concrete surface that neither driver came close to Labonte's Dover qualifying standard of 155.086, set last September for the MBNA 500. Nor did they approach Gordon's 154.785 event qualifying record of a year ago.
"I'm glad to get through with that lap," said Gordon, who hopes to win for the sixth time in 12 races this year. "I was more nervous today about qualifying than I've been in a long time."
Labonte also said the eighth pole of his career was no easy run.
"We had enough heat in the tires where it stuck good for a lap," he said. "Before we hadn't gotten it as comfortable as we wanted it to be."
Labonte said an earlier qualifying round for the Busch Grand National event of Saturday - in which he was second-fastest behind Dick Trickle - did little to help him in the Miller 500 time testing. But he said the slick nature of the oval and the brushes with the wall of many drivers in both sessions didn't slow him.
"We didn't leave anything on the table," he said. "We ran two-tenths (of a second) faster than we did in practice.
"We always run well here. This place used to have us buffaloed a bit, but we've got a better handle on it."
Labonte won his third pole in as many visits to Dover. In addition to his top start in the MBNA 500, Labonte qualified first for the Busch race last June.
Gordon said there was no reason for him to expect to start first by the time his turn came in qualifying.
"I never doubted we could go out there and run a decent lap," he said. "But when Bobby Labonte ran his lap, I knew we didn't have to think about the pole."
Third-fastest was the Pontiac of Kyle Petty, whose most recent victory came two years ago in this race. He went 151.694 to take the inside of the second row. Next to him will be Joe Nemechek, who turned a lap at 151.471 in a Chevy.
Petty was stunned by his effort.
"I don't know about this pole stuff," he said. "We're just trying to concentrate on making races."
The surprise of the day was Dave Marcis, whose Chevy was fifth-fastest off a lap of 151.318.
Terry Labonte, Bobby's brother, will try to defend a six-point lead over teammate Gordon from the 21st position on the grid.
Missing from the list of drivers who locked up starting positions was seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt. He was 40th among 45 qualifiers in the round that set positions 1-25, and will have to try to make a field of 42 in second-round qualifying Saturday.
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