Elliott speeds to Winston pole for the fifth time

Saturday, May 17, 2003

The AssociatedPress

CONCORD, N.C. -- Bill Elliott put his fear of speeding down pit road aside Friday night, just in time to earn the pole for NASCAR's all-star race a record fifth time.

Under the unique qualifying format for The Winston, drivers race two laps around Lowe's Motor Speedway then pit to change four tires before running a third and final lap. The speed limit coming on to pit road is 45 mph, but there is no limit exiting.

So the drivers are free to race off pit road as fast as they'd like, something Elliott hasn't been comfortable with because of two accidents involving his crew members.

In one of them, in 1986 in Atlanta, crew member Mike Rich was killed when he was hit by another car during a pit stop.

"Pit road has always been a sensitive issue for me," he said. "It's always been just a little bit of an issue because I've always had that in the back of my mind."

Elliott had the second fastest pit stop of the night -- his Evernham Motorsports team changed four tires on the No. 9 Dodge in 12.93 seconds -- and he set a new event record by completing the entire qualifying process at a speed of 131.502 mph.

Elliott has now won The Winston pole four times in the past seven years. He has won the dash-for-cash only once, in 1986 when the race was held in Atlanta the one time it wasn't run at Lowe's.

But he'll try for his second all-star victory Saturday night, when the winner will earn a record $1 million first prize.

It will be a fight, though.

Only 24 drivers are in the race, which is spread out over three segments with the field trimmed after each round. Only 10 drivers will make it to the final round.

Wheeling, dealing gives Indy a chance for full field

INDIANAPOLIS -- Less than 48 hours before the final qualifying session, teams scrambled Friday to fill the field for the Indianapolis 500.

Roger Penske's team leased one of its eight cars to Sam Schmidt Motorsports, driver Richie Hearn switched teams and Panther Racing quickly found a replacement for him.

The flurry gave the speedway 33 driver-car combinations -- enough to fill the grid for the race May 25.

"Obviously, we're very interested in putting 33 in the show, just like everybody else," Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said.

Schmdit's deal, for Gil de Ferran's backup car, is for one race and was signed shortly after practice ended Friday. Cindric declined to comment on the pricetag, but the deal set off a flurry of moves.

Hearn quickly agreed to drive for Schmidt just hours after Panther Racing owner John Barnes said Hearn would drive his team's third car.

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