WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Dale Jarrett, badly in need of a good finish after falling far from the lead in the Winston Cup standings, got off to a great start Friday by winning the pole at Watkins Glen International.
Trailing Jeff Gordon by 160 points, Jarrett will start the Global Crossing 12 positions ahead of him Sunday (1 p.m., NBC-Channel 26). Track position is of special importance on a road course, where passing is so difficult.
Jarrett drove his Ford around the 11-turn, 2.45-mile layout in 1 minute, 1.884 seconds at a track record of 122.698 mph. He beat Robert Yates Racing teammate Ricky Rudd, who turned a lap at 122.301.
"You get to run your race," Jarrett said. "If you're trying to pass all day and you have to run 90 laps here it's hard not to put yourself in a bad position."
Jarrett, the 1999 series champion, lost the points lead two weeks ago, and fell farther behind when Gordon won the Brickyard 400 last Sunday. So he knows he needs to produce this weekend on a track where Gordon has won three times.
The fast lap was no accident, however. Realizing Gordon and two-time Watkins Glen winner Rudd are so good on serpentine courses, Jarrett tested here two weeks ago. He was hoping to improve on a finish of 26th in June on the other NASCAR road course.
"This was a new car at Sears Point, and to be quite honest we were terrible there," he said. "So we went back and made some changes on it, and a lot of them worked when we tested here."
Jarrett feels that he and his program are vastly improved on road courses, and believes his pole came just in time to give him at least a big advantage at the start when he needs it most.
Although Jarrett is not ready to concede that Gordon could soon make a runaway for the race, he believes he must be productive Sunday.
"It's very important that we do well here this weekend," Jarrett said. "We know that both Jeff and Ricky should run well."
Although he got the outside of the front row, Rudd felt he could have done better.
"You're not happy when you run slower than you did in practice, and we did," Rudd said. "I made a few mental errors, but at the time I didn't realize it."
While Jarrett got his third pole of the season, 13th of his career and first on any discipline other than a superspeedway, Gordon was not very good in pursuit of his sixth top start of the year.
Even though he leads in poles, he isn't obsessed with winning them. So, when after he went just 122.498, Gordon took the lap in stride.
"We've got some good guys in front of us," he said. "But I'm not too worried."
In all he had a better day than defending race champion Steve Park. He couldn't take a lap because of a brake problem, and will start 37th.
Gordon's teammate, Jerry Nadeau, was a surprise as the third qualifier. He went 122.235 in his Chevrolet, and will start inside Robby Gordon. Subbing for the injured Mike Skinner, Gordon got around at 122.218.
Starting fifth will be the Ford of Rusty Wallace, whose lap at 122.042 was one of 13 faster than his two-year-old track record of 121.234. Ron Fellows, one of several moonlighting road-racing aces and the second-place finisher here in 1999, was next in a Chevy, going 121.956.
Todd Bodine, Scott Pruett John Andretti and rookie Kevin Harvick completed the top 10.