Originally created 08/19/00

'Little E' sets mark, wins pole



BROOKLYN, Mich. -- If Kerry Earnhardt had a problem living in his younger brother's shadow, Friday's qualifying session for the Pepsi 400 at the Michigan Speedway didn't help matters much.

The oldest of two racing sons to seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt came into this week's race on the 2-mile, D-shaped raceway amid much ballyhoo since Sunday's main event was to be his first career start.

Instead, little brother again hogged the attention by winning the pole position.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., a rookie known as "Little E", has become one of the hottest properties in the business with a pair of victories. Kerry Earnhardt, who picked up the nickname "Middle E" this week, has labored all season as a part-time driver on the ARCA Series.

While little brother was breaking the track record with a hot lap of 191.149 mph, older brother was struggling to get a car their father built up to speed. Kerry Earnhardt ran 186.950 mph to be 39th of 49 cars at the raceway.

"The car was too tight," Kerry Earnhardt said. "It wouldn't turn in the corners. I had to drift up to the walls and just ride it out. To come back and qualify like that, it kind of brings you down a little bit. The sun's out and the track is a little hotter and the car just doesn't stick like it did in practice.

"It's a little different with the tires. The Goodyears wiggle a little in the corners, and I've had to try to get used to all of that. We'll have to go again in second round (qualifying today). I wanted to qualify in first round. That brings you down so much. We didn't get close. We'll just have to come back and try it again."

The top 35 fastest cars automatically earn a starting spot in Sunday's race (1 p.m., ESPN). Seven other drivers will have to qualify for a provisional exemption to make the field. Kerry Earnhardt's car owner, Dave Marcis, does qualify for such an exemption.

Such calculations won't be needed in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s garage stall. His lap not only won the pole position, it established a stock car record at the raceway.

"The car was real comfortable," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We found something late in practice that really hooked the car up. We went through a bunch of shocks and made some decisions. It's good. That was a good lap. I'm happy.

"We've got a couple of new crew members, and that's the way to break 'em in. We didn't run well here in the Cup race last year or earlier this year, but we hope to turn that around. I'm happy we're back up front in qualifying. Now maybe we'll get back up front in the race."

With his sons taking positions at both ends of the speed charts, the father steered closer to his oldest son in time trials. Earnhardt's lap of 187.329 mph was only 32nd quickest.

Dale Jarrett won the outside pole position with a lap of 189.959 mph. Rick Mast was third at 189.898 mph, followed by Ricky Rudd in fourth at 189.768, Bobby Labonte in fifth at 189.648, Jeremy Mayfield in sixth at 189.623, Jerry Nadeau in seventh at 189.519, Ward Burton in eighth at 189.484, Rusty Wallace in ninth at 189.479 and Scott Pruett in 10th at 189.374.

Young Earnhardt, who's struggled since winning two of the first 11 races, hopes Friday's effort sparks a resurgence in his team's performance in the final three months of the season.

"We struggled in qualifying the past three months, and we're working to get back where we need to be," Little E said. "I was glad to get away from the flat tracks and get on some banking. We still haven't quite figured out our flat track program. We made some gains at Indy, but it's been difficult for us because we were so lost for so long at Pocono and places like that.

"We had a string of races where we were just terrible, and we didn't know what was wrong. Maybe something was wrong with the team, but it's just a matter of setups -- good and bad. It's great to be back at Michigan. We qualified eighth here last time, and I expected to run good here today. We've upped it a notch, so I think we're pretty happy with that."

For Kerry Earnhardt, it's still a thrill to be joining his brother and father on the race track. Not only will it be the first time the Earnhardts have raced together -- provided Kerry Earnhardt makes the field -- it will be the first time such a combination has raced on the Winston Cup Series since the sport went to its Modern Era in 1972.

"It's all come so fast to me, it's pretty amazing," Middle E said. "Dad decided with the performance we've had in the ARCA Series and the way we've been running and handling ourselves on the track, that it's a great time to come try Winston Cup."

Friday's qualifying session locked up the top 25 starting spots for Sunday's race. Those who missed the first round cut will either return today for another qualifying session, stand on their first round speed or rely on a provisional exemption.

Those who failed to make the first round cut included Geoffrey Bodine in 30th, John Andretti in 36th, Brett Bodine in 40th, Darrell Waltrip in 44th, Kyle Petty in 47th and Mark Martin in 49th. Martin didn't attempt a qualifying lap after crashing in his NASCAR Busch Series car earlier in the day. He wasn't injured.