Originally created 04/29/00

Skinner confident after winning pole position



FONTANA, Calif. -- Mike Skinner was both quick and confident when he was asked how soon he'd win his first Winston Cup Series race.

"Any day now," he said without hesitation. "Any day."

Skinnner's optimism had a lot to do with winning Friday's qualifying session for the NAPA Auto Parts 500 at the California Speedway. The fact that he's on home turf also didn't didn't hurt.

"I was born in Ontario," Skinner said. "I love coming home. The car's really good, and I'm home. It's a good combination. That first win really could be any day now."

Ontario is five minutes south of the 4-year-old California Speedway. His hometown of Susanville is about an hour north of the raceway.

Skinner, now in his fourth full-time season on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, has 10 top-five finishes in his career, but he's yet to visit Victory Lane. He attacked California's flat and sweeping turns like a driver who's getting tired of merely coming close.

"I tell you, it scared the hell out of me," Skinner said of his lap of 186.061 mph that shattered Greg Sacks' 3-year-old track record of 183.753 mph. "It was a good lap. The car started to push coming to the flag, and I had to roll out just a little bit. I knew it was going to hurt the lap. If it was a perfect lap, I might have been a 10th (of a second) quicker."

Several drivers had trouble keeping their cars glued to the bottom groove around the 2-mile raceway. As they came through the fourth corner and along the main straightaway, several cars -- including Skinner's -- lost traction with the front wheels and drifted to the middle and outside groove.

Apparently the slip didn't hurt Skinner as much as it hurt everyone else.

"I was breathing pretty heavy there for a while," Skinner said, pushing his car to the brink of disaster in the final turn. "That was a handful. I'm glad that's over with. We didn't have a perfect lap. I was going to go for it and run as hard as I could. That's the fastest we've been."

Thanks to a new tire used by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., the 23 fastest cars in time trials broke the track record. In fact, it almost took a record speed just to make the first round cut in qualifying.

While Skinner is desperate for a win, Jimmy Spencer and Ricky Rudd, who qualified second and third, respectively, could end long winless streaks with a victory Sunday. Spencer hasn't won since 1994, and Rudd's last victory came in 1998.

"I've been down on myself and saying, `What am I doing wrong?' I didn't have any confidence in the tires. I was pointing fingers at everything and finally realized in talking with (car owner) Travis (Carter) that I think Jimmy Spencer doesn't have the confidence in the team and the team wasn't building cars the way they needed to be.

"To Travis' credit, he didn't fire anybody or anything. He just said, `Boys, we need to go to work.' About a month ago, we went to work on our race cars. I'll tip my hat to the guys in the shop because they've finally done some good work and built some good race cars. If they keep doing what they're doing, there's no doubt we can win some races."

Friday's results locked in the top 25 starting spots for Sunday's 43-car main event (2 p.m., ABC). Those not making the first round cut still can get into the race with their second-round qualifying speeds from today or a provisional exemption.

Those who still aren't in the race include: Jeff Gordon in 26th, Bill Elliott in 27th, Joe Nemechek in 28th, Tony Stewart in 31st, Jarrett in 32nd, Terry Labonte in 33rd, Kyle Petty in 34th, Dale Earnhardt in 36th, Bobby Labonte in 38th and Sterling Marlin in 39th.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@mindspring.com.