Originally created 05/15/04

Vickers wins first pole as Richmond gets slick



RICHMOND, Va. -- The track record fell again and again in qualifying at Richmond International Raceway, but two drivers also crashed Friday when the new asphalt went from grippy to slippery.

Twenty-nine drivers broke Ward Burton's 2-year-old record of 127.389 mph, led by rookie Brian Vickers. He got won his first career pole with a lap at 129.983.

"Everything just came together for us," said Vickers, who will start only his 16th Nextel Cup race. "The track didn't bite us like it did some of these guys. It was a good, smooth, patient but aggressive lap."

Ricky Craven and rookie Kasey Kahne crashed early in the session, causing others to turn conservative instead of trying for the pole on the three-quarter-mile oval.

"I worried about everybody being so loose and I drove it too easy," said Rusty Wallace, who will start seventh Saturday night in the Chevy American Revolution 400. "I should have got in deeper.

"I was waiting for it to go all over the place, and it didn't do it. I didn't hustle it enough."

Left to bake in sunshine for more than 1 1/2 hours after a practice in which 22 drivers surpassed 130 mph, the slick track surprised some of the first to make their qualifying laps.

Not among them was Ryan Newman, one of the Nextel Cup series' top qualifiers, whose lap was good enough to earn him the No. 2 spot.

"Going out first was not exactly what we wanted to do," said Newman, whose qualifying speed was 129.970, still well off his fastest lap of 132.567 mph in practice.

That lap was easily tops among all drivers, but also came before oil rose to the top as the asphalt baked.

Craven, fourth on the qualifying grid, spun during his second trip around and crashed into the outside wall coming out of the fourth turn.

Kahne, second-fastest in practice, also spun in the same spot and will start at the rear of the field in a backup car.

"I should have maybe left a little bit out there instead of trying for the pole," Kahne said. "Sometimes it'll bite you when you do that."

Behind Vickers' Chevrolet and Newman's Dodge are the Dodge of Jeff Green and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his Chevy. Green's lap was 129.677, and Earnhardt's 129.639.

"I was just trying to be real cautious," Earnhardt said.

The Chevys of Jimmie Johnson and Robby Gordon will start in the third row, followed by six-time Richmond winner Wallace in a Dodge and defending champion Joe Nemechek in a Chevy.

Johnson said he put a safe lap on the board his first time around, then "tried to get all that I could" on his second lap. Instead, he lost it and almost crashed when he found no grip in the fourth turn.

"It's like you drive in there and then it's gone," Johnson said.

Johnson's boss, Jeff Gordon, qualified 13th as he began his quest for a third consecutive victory in NASCAR's premier series.

Drivers unsure how the track will respond to nightfall, and curious whether a second racing groove will emerge this weekend, figured to be among the keenest observers of Friday night's Funai 250 Busch series event.

"The Busch race will be the best answer for everyone," Newman said.