Originally created 04/24/04

Rudd's practice pays off later



TALLADEGA, Ala. - Ricky Rudd had the fastest car in traffic Friday morning during practice for the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

With the track all to himself later in the day, he was even faster.

Rudd turned both the fastest practice lap and qualifying lap Friday to claim his first pole in 55 career starts at the 2.66-mile track. His qualifying speed of 191.180 mph is the fastest for a Talladega spring race since 1999.

"I knew we were fast," Rudd said. "Before we got here I thought we had a shot at it. But we tried not to get too excited about because it's a long fall if you expect to win the pole and you don't."

Rudd earned pole-favorite status with his practice laps early Friday. But the 29-year veteran discounted the run because another car pulled in front of him during his fastest lap. The car in front cut down on the wind resistance on Rudd's car, helping him go faster.

"Really, I was concerned because the fast lap of the day that we ran was not a realistic lap," Rudd said. "There were cars on the track and even though we tried to get an empty hole in traffic, somebody jumped out in front of us and it wasn't a real lap."

His qualifying lap was more fact than fiction and earned him his first Nextel Cup pole since the 2002 race at Watkins Glen and the first pole for Wood Brothers Racing in 20 years.

Two drivers who have won the past five races at Talladega qualified right behind Rudd. Michael Waltrip, who won here last fall, will start on the outside of the front row. Dale Earnhardt Jr., a four-time winner at Talladega, qualified third.

Joe Nemechek and rookie Scott Riggs round out the top five, followed by Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Jimmie Johnson, Sterling Marlin and Ward Burton.