Originally created 07/20/02

Elliott takes pole for New England 300

LOUDON, N.H. -- While his teammates have struggled, Bill Elliott and his crew have locked into something - at least when it comes to qualifying.

Elliott continued his recent stretch of strong qualifying runs by winning his third pole of the season Friday at New Hampshire International Speedway.

He ran a lap around the flat track at 131.469 mph in a Dodge to take the top starting spot for Sunday's New England 300. It was his sixth top-five effort in the past eight qualifying sessions.

"It's all about teamwork, you never know who's going to beat you or who's going to run good when qualifying starts," Elliott said. "We just kept working with it, getting a little better. We made a lot of changes before qualifying and it turned out to be in a good direction."

Mike Skinner qualified second in a Chevrolet with a lap at 131.175. He was followed by the Ford of Rusty Wallace, Bobby Labonte's Pontiac and Dave Blaney's Ford.

Matt Kenseth qualified sixth. Rookie Ryan Newman was seventh, and Ricky Rudd, Ricky Craven and Bobby Hamilton rounded out the top 10. Four-time and defending Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, a three-time winner here, qualified 11th.

Elliott won poles at Atlanta and Texas earlier this year, but followed those runs with poor laps that required him to use provisionals to make three straight races.

Since then he's been outside the top five qualifiers only at Pocono, where he started ninth, and at Daytona, where he lined up 14th.

And he's had strong finishes - he has eight top-10s this year - and has worked his way up to eighth in the Winston Cup standings.

It has helped car owner Ray Evernham sustain what has been a trying season.

Jeremy Mayfield, in his first season with Evernham Motorsports, is 27th in the standings, and last week the car owner shook up the team by going with a committee of crew members to run the car instead of a standard crew chief.

And Casey Atwood, who drives a Dodge partly owned by Evernham, is 31st in the standings.

Mayfield qualified 14th and Atwood 35th for Sunday's race.

But things couldn't be better for Elliott, in his second season with Evernham since abandoning his role as an owner-driver. Now that Evernham calls the shots, Elliott is free to focus on driving the No. 9.

"Right now I just want to race," Elliott said. "I don't want to worry about commercials and appearances or any of that. I just want to come to the race track and drive the car, and I'm finally able to do that and I'm really enjoying it."

He credited Evernham for lightening his load and allowing him to enjoy the final years of his career. The 46-year-old Elliott probably will drive only a few more seasons.

"Ray has done a great job, I feel like he's one of the best car owners in the garage area," Elliott said. "He gives us the necessary tools to go race week in and week out, and I've missed that over the last several years trying to run my own deal.

"It's a tough situation, but right now I'm very comfortable with where I'm at and I'm very proud of what my guys have done."

Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin will start 18th, one spot ahead of Mark Martin, who's second in the standings.

But it shouldn't be too hard for them to move to the front of the pack thanks to a new second groove on the nearly flat, 1.058-mile oval.

Track owner Bob Bahre spent about $200,000 this spring so a paving company could add a new racing line to the track to improve the ability for cars to pass - something that had been difficult here in the past.

"They've tried to add another lane on the bottom to pass and I'm excited about that," Wallace said. "In the race, when the 43 cars line up side-by-side and you get sliding around a lot, you'll probably be able to use that bottom lane a little bit more."


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