Originally created 05/04/02

Ward Burton back on track



RICHMOND, Va. - Ward Burton's racing season needed a jump start. He found it on familiar turf.

Burton's Dodge Intrepid not only won the pole for tonight's Pontiac Excitement 400 (7 p.m., FX), it shattered the record at a track that's not too far from his home in South Boston.

"I was just trying to run what I was capable of running," he said. "I knew if I got everything right, it was possible to get the pole."

Burton won the season-opening Daytona 500 and has been in a downward spiral since. He's only had one other top-10 finish this year, and he's dropped to 14th in the point standings. Being home, he hopes, will turn things around.

"Today is fabulous for my family and my race team," Burton said after winning his seventh career pole. "To do this here, where a lot of my friends and family come from, and where my roots are held very dear, is very special.

"We really needed this. It was important to qualify well, but we've got to get ready for the race. That's the main thing. Maybe we can get this thing turned around."

The oldest of two racing brothers was one of the three-fastest drivers in early practice on the .75-mile, D-shaped speedway. He backed that up with a lap of 127.389 mph during time trials that easily erased Jeff Gordon's three-year old record of 126.499 mph.

In fact, the top 10 qualifiers Friday afternoon broke Gordon's record.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second-fastest at 127.179 mph, followed by Tony Stewart in third at 127.059 and Gordon in fourth at 126.975.

The racing surface was treated with a sealer in the off-season and that provided a lot of grip during the practice and qualifying sessions.

"It changes because they reseal the track every time we come here," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It's a good thing; it really adds a lot of grip. It allows for the second groove; that's the only reason we're able to run two grooves here in a Cup race. It's a little different every time you come here and you just have to be ready to adjust the car."

Burton said the sealer started to wear off at the end of practice, giving the cars at the front of the qualifying order an advantage over those who qualified late.

"The track lost a little grip from the earlier practice, but it was good enough to get the job done," he said. "We brought a brand-new car here. Actually, it's the first short track, in-house car we've built from bottom to top. It was their effort in the car that gave me that allowed me to get the pole."

There was a 250-lap NASCAR Busch Series race at Richmond on Friday night, as well as another session for the Winston Cup cars. By the time the green flag waves for the main event, most of the sealer should be worn away.

"A little more grip, but I think that's what everybody would have asked for today," Stewart said. "We ran really, really hard in practice. Obviously, when the clouds came, the track conditions changed a little bit. But, it was the same for everybody. Everybody had an even shot at it. The lap I got in practice isn't the lap I had when I qualified."

Nonetheless, Stewart likes his chances during tonight's main event.

"Obviously, we don't know what is going to happen, but I'm pretty optimistic based on the way that we tested here, and by our history here," Stewart said of a past that includes a pair of wins at Richmond. "Normally, if we qualify up front here, we stay up front here. I'm somewhat optimistic that we're going to have a good weekend here."

Friday's session set the 43-car starting lineup. Two drivers - Dale Jarrett and Kurt Busch - crashed during the practice session and weren't fast in their backup cars during time trials. Both, along with Bill Elliott, Jimmy Spencer, John Andretti, Frank Kimmel and Randy Renfrow, needed a provisional exempton to make the field.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.