AVONDALE, Ariz. - Casey Atwood didn't have any NASCAR Winston Cup Series experience for the Phoenix International Raceway, so Friday he relied on the next best thing - notes from Bill Elliott's test session at Homestead, Fla.
Although the two tracks are three time zones away from each other, Atwood figured the relatively-flat corners at Homestead were close enough to the banking at Phoenix to give him a hint.
Based on knowledge from another driver and another track, Atwood put his Dodge Intrepid on the pole for Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500.
"Bill tested at Homestead and he got his car driving real good," Atwood said after winning his first pole position during his rookie season. "I took what he learned at Homestead and applied it to my car here. It wasn't perfect, but it was good enough."
Atwood said the rear wheels actually spun as he exited the second and fourth turns during time trials, but he had enough power down the straightaways to post a fast lap of 131.296 mph.
John Andretti gave Dodge a front-row sweep with a qualifying lap of 131.071 mph.
Atwood and Elliott are teammates at Evernham Motorsports, and the driver from Antioch, Tenn., who became old enough to buy beer just two months ago didn't count on a lot of success during his rookie season.
"When I first came in, I never really set a goal to win a pole," Atwood said. "That was just going to be a bonus if we did that. My goal was to win rookie of the year, and even that turned out way harder than it seemed at first with all the struggles we had at the beginning. I definitely feel like this has made up for a lot of our struggles. Hopefully the team is happy and pumped up and we can have a good race."
Atwood's pole marked the first time in more than 20 years that three rookies won pole positions. Other first year drivers to start first on race day this year are Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.
Phoenix proved to be a boon for Dodge. Not only did the Intrepid win the top-two starting spots, all 10 of the cars in the Dodge stable qualified well, including Kyle Petty, who's failed to qualify for three of the last five
"The Petty team has always been strong on flat tracks, and I like the flat tracks, too," Andretti said of his car owner. "The track is real slippery. I'm more disappointed about Kyle not being on the pole than I am about me being second. I don't mind being second if Kyle was first.
"A pole would have been nice for a lot of reasons. I think this has been a very difficult season. With 43 guys out there every weekend, you guys can only talk about so much. Our team has sort of been in hiding the whole year. Kyle has put a lot of effort into this and the Petty team has put a lot of money and energy into it. I think they deserve some recognition for that, and a pole would have helped us help you give us that, but second is a step forward."
Jeff Burton will start Sunday's main event from third. He qualified his Ford at 130.976 mph.
Atwood said he hopes to make his car better during the today's final 90-minute practice session. Since it wiggled at both ends of the speedway during qualifying, he thinks the car should only get better.
"Our car got a little bit loose, but it was good enough to win the pole," he said. "That's what we needed. It had a great motor in it and ran down the straightaways really well. It was really hooked up, just a little bit loose. It looked like everybody else was, too.
"Dodge got another pole (sixth of the season). We start off good, but there's a big race Sunday. We need to get our car as good as we can get it then and hopefully pick up a win."
Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.
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