LOUDON, N.H. -- Rick Craven wrote perhaps one of the most dramatic stories of the Winston Cup season when he returned from an injury before adoring fans at his home track Friday to win the pole for the Jiffy Lube 300.
Craven, who who had missed the last 12 races with post-concussion syndrome, waited until the end of a rain-delayed qualifying session to knock teammate Jeff Gordon off the pole for Sunday's race.
"This is some script," Craven said as his wife, Cathleen, clung to him and both fought back tears as the crowd at New Hampshire International Speedway cheered for the 32-year-old driver from nearby Newbergh, Maine. "Three and a half months ago, I didn't know when or if I'd ever be in a race car again."
He was the last of 44 drivers to get in one Friday, and toured the 1.058-mile track on which he has known much success at 128.394 mph. Among the first to greet Craven was Gordon, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate whose Chevrolet wound up second-fastest at 127.872.
Craven, who got out of the car in March because he felt an accumulation of injuries from previous crashes left him feeling inadequate, said he wasn't sure he had run a great lap because he got a little loose in the first turn. But he said running all day with a qualifying setup paid dividends.
The venue -- at which he has 13 top-10 finishes in 20 career starts -- didn't hurt, either.
"One element missing for me was confidence. I was miserable at Atlanta," he said. "I knew I'd have confidence coming back to New Hampshire."
Third-fastest in a session delayed an hour at the start then three more times briefly by rain, was the Ford of Dale Jarrett at 126.956.
The Fords of Roush Racing teammates Chad Little and Jeff Burton were next, Little at 126.401 and Burton at 126.374.
"It don't remember anything about the lap," said Craven, who began racing at NHIS in other NASCAR divisions in 1990. "The way things worked out with the rain, I knew we had a shot at it."
Gordon agreed, saying he saying he was fortunate to go out 34th.
"Sometimes, it's the luck of the draw," he said. "Today, it worked in our favor.
"As I saw Dale Jarrett run a pretty good lap, I just went out there and tried to be smooth and aggressive."
That couldn't be said for many, among them Ken Schrader, trying to win his third straight Loudon pole. Lead weights fell out of his car during his lap, and NASCAR nullified his sixth-place run. That will force him into qualifying today, when positions 26-43 are to be filled.
Team owner and crew chief Andy Petree was fined $2,000 for the incident.
Heavy rain just as Sterling Marlin was to take the first time test washed the track clean of rubber, making it extremely slippery. Marlin slid badly, as did most of the early qualifiers.
"It's like we've been practicing all day on asphalt, and now they want us to qualify on dirt," said Kyle Petty, whose Pontiac wound up sixth on the grid.
Mark Martin, the more heralded teammate of Little and Burton, probably summed up the numbers game best.
"We were unfortunate that we went out 19th," said Martin, the 15th-fastest qualifier. "Of course, we were fortunate we didn't go out first."
Among those not at all upset by the slippery surface was Darrell Waltrip, who locked up the eighth position on the grid in a Chevy.
`I just love it slick and greasy," he said. "I wish it was 100 degrees and there was 10 laps to go."
Ernie Irvan followed Petty in a Pontiac. The Ford of Rusty Wallace and the Pontiac of Bobby Labonte rounded out the top 10.
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