Originally created 07/31/98

Irvan wins Brickyard pole



INDIANAPOLIS -- Most drivers talk about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's history, charm and mammoth seating capacity. Ernie Irvan simply likes the 2 1/2 -mile rectangle race track.

He demonstrated that again Thursday, capturing his second consecutive pole position for Saturday's Brickyard 400.

Irvan broke his own event record with a one-lap average speed of 179.394 mph in he No. 36 Skittles Pontiac. He won the pole last year in the Yates Racing No. 28 Ford at 177.736 mph.

"It just goes to show you I get around the Indianapolis race track fairly well," Irvan said. "You can't do it without an awesome car and an awesome lap. You have to put 100-percent dedication to get your line perfect, and also have a car capable of doing it. Everyone on this team worked on this thing where it really handles good.

Irvan was the first driver to go out after qualifying was delayed from early afternoon until evening by rain. He was forced to sweat out runs by several drivers who were faster than him in practice, including former teammate Dale Jarrett, who was second fastest at 178.596 mph in a Ford.

Jeff Gordon, a hometown favorite and the pole winner in 1995 and '96, disappointed the crowd of about 30,000 with a third-best lap of 187.260 mph.

"There's a lot of pressure qualifying here, and we're glad to be third," Gordon said. "We hope we can put this thing in Victory Lane. Ernie has a good setup and knows how to get around this track."

Gordon suggested that winning the pole at a high-profile event such as the Brickyard can be a negative because it can take a driver's attention away from preparing for the race. Irvan didn't agree.

"I won the pole here last year, and I didn't lose any focus," Irvan said. "That's a mental thing. If I was Jeff Gordon, that's probably what I would tell somebody too."

Irvan has come so close here. The Winston Cup points leader coming into the inaugural race in 1994, he was racing Gordon for the lead with five laps to go when he had a flat tire. Then, he finished second to Jarrett in 1996 and 10th last year after leading the most laps.

Seriously injured at Michigan in 1994, Irvan missed the 1995 Brickyard, when Dale Earnhardt won.

Last year's strong run came only days after learning he would not be re-signed by owner Robert Yates and with his mother in the hospital.

"It was really tough, but that's what makes good race drivers," Irvan said. "You've got to keep your focus."

The pole is Irvan's first with the Nelson Bowers-owned team, for whom he has yet to post a top-five finish. Bowers received a 1998 Harley-Davidson XL 1200 valued at $12,000 for Irvan's efforts.

Filling out the top 10 were Kenny Irwin in a Ford, surprising Jeff Green in a Felix Sabates-owned Chevy, Ricky Craven in a Chevy, Mark Martin in a Ford, Terry Labonte in a Chevy, John Andretti in a Pontiac and Bobby Labonte in a Pontiac.

University of Georgia grad Buckshot Jones qualified 15th at 176.512 mph. He will be making only his third Winston Cup start.

"It's a big deal just to make this race, but it's a really big deal to make it in the first round," Jones said.

Among those who didn't secure a guaranteed starting position were seven-time Winston Cup champion Earnhardt (28th at 175.668 mph) and defending champion Ricky Rudd (27th at 175.750).

"We've been tight all day, and I just spun out," said Earnhardt, the race winner in 1996. "We were just too loose, too loose."