CONCORD, N.C. - Bill Elliott proved again Friday night that when it comes to qualifying for The Winston, he's an all-star with no equal.
His Dodge Intrepid was fast during three laps around Lowe's Motor Speedway, and his Evernham Motorsports pit crew was even quicker during a mandatory four-tire change on pit road to put him on the pole for tonight's all-star race (9, FX).
His average speed of 131.502 mph - which included the pit stop - was worth $50,000. It also marked the fifth time in the all-star race's 17 years - and fourth time in the past seven years - he's started on the pole for the race that doesn't count toward the series championship.
"I'm so happy for these guys," Elliott said. "They've put my in a good position. I'm in first-class stuff."
Despite his success in qualifying for the special race, Elliott isn't a fan of making the pit stop because there's no speed limit leaving the pit box. He had one crewman killed in a pit road accident at Atlanta in 1990 and had four crewmen injured in a 1987 accident at Riverside, Calif. Those mishaps prompted NASCAR to post speed limits on pit road.
"As much as I don't agree with the format for qualifying, it's been good to me," he said. "It seems to play into my hands. I was pleasantly surprised. I've had Mike Rich get killed in Atlanta and I had some other guys get hurt in Riverside. That's always been on the back of my mind."
Friday's performance, however, wasn't about emotions. It was all business.
"I felt like we ran a pretty good first lap," he said. "We tied it together on the second lap: I got onto pit road good, the guys did a good stop."
The Winston is open to the 18 most-recent winning drivers and car owners on the Winston Cup Series, as well as former all-star race and series champions. That fact, along with a $1 million payday to the winner, makes it one of the most-popular races of the year for the fans and the race teams.
After winning twice in 2003, Elliott's team has struggled this season. They hope the effort during time trials and in tonight's main event will signal a much-needed turnaround.
"This team is really pulling together in the last four or five weeks," said crew chief Mike Ford. "Maybe this is the start of something good."
Tony Stewart was second at 130.894 mph, followed by Kevin Harvick in third at 129.782, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fourth at 129.585, Sterling Marlin in fifth at 129.561, Joe Nemechek in sixth at 129.551 and Ricky Craven in seventh at 129.549.
Steve Park, making his first start for Richard Childress Racing after being fired less than two weeks ago from Dale Earnhardt Inc., ran 184.244 mph to win the pole for the Winston Open for drivers who aren't qualified for the main event.
The winner of the 30-lap qualifying race will get the final starting spot in The Winston. Two of 16 all-star winners, including last year's winner Ryan Newman, came from the qualifying race.
"Change is good," Park said. "I hadn't been this excited and this relaxed to come to the race track in about a year and a half. A lot has happened in the last seven days and I'm just real happy to be where I'm at."
Todd Bodine will be second in the starting lineup for the Winston Open. He qualified at 183.667 mph.
Jimmy Spencer will start third in the qualifier, while Mike Wallace is fourth, Kenny Wallace is fifth, Ken Schrader is sixth, Mike Skinner is seventh, Brett Bodine is eighth, Tony Raines is ninth and Dave Blaney is 10th.
Unlike time trials for the Winston Open where only the fastest of two laps counted, the all-star race had a qualifying format that included the total time for three laps around the 1.5-mile speedway and a pit stop to change four tires.
The Winston race also has some twists. It has three segments - 40, 30 and 20 laps. A pit stop is required in the first segment and the top 20 drivers advance to the second segment. The top 14 finishers from the second segment move to the 20-lap finale. And to make it even more interesting, the lineup for the final 20 laps will be inverted. The depth of the inversion will be determined by fan voting at the speedway.
Rusty Wallace had the fastest time overall time, but NASCAR found a loose lug nut on the right-front wheel and penalized him five seconds to drop him back to 18th on the grid.
Elliott's crew was flawless. A crew of seven, working the right side of the car, then the left, changed four tires and got Elliott back on the track in a qualifying-best 12.93 seconds.
"We put it all together tonight," Elliott said. "Now we can get ready to see if we can win that million dollars (tonight)."
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