Elliott wins pole at home track

Saturday, March 9, 2002

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Bill Elliott struck a blow for the older drivers, nipping rookie Ryan Newman for the pole in qualifying Friday for the MBNA America 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Elliott was the 42nd of 45 drivers to make his two-lap run and turned the 1.54-mile oval at 191.542 mph, narrowly beating Newman's speed of 191.463. Elliott's Dodge was just 16th-fastest in an earlier practice but picked up the pace for his 52nd career pole.

Atlanta is considered the home track for the 46-year-old Elliott, a native of Dawsonville, Ga., about 90 miles away.

"We changed the car quite a bit from practice," he said. "Then right before we went out, we made a couple of more adjustments. And lo and behold, we hit it right on the money. That's hard to do in this business."

Joining the 24-year-old Newman near the front are two more twentysomethings -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch. Earnhardt will start third in a Chevrolet, Busch fourth in a Ford.

Newman sits a surprising second in the points standings, 75 points behind leader Sterling Marlin. Newman's Ford was the fastest in testing last week at the track and most drivers conceded he would be a favorite for the pole.

"It was 35 degrees when we came here and tested, so we had our work cut out for us trying to get this thing to handle in 70-degree weather," Newman said. "It's amazing how much this race track will change with five degrees, but when you get 35 degrees, that makes it even tougher.

"It's still an honor to be able to qualify second to somebody like Bill here at his home track."

Atlanta is one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, and Kevin Harvick, another driver under 30, speculated earlier in the week that Newman or one of the other youngsters would turn the fastest lap in qualifying.

But Elliott spoiled that scenario.

"It's not us against them," Elliott said of the younger drivers. "Sometimes, I don't know if age has anything to do with it. I do think the younger drivers approach things a little different, and I think the older drivers can learn something from that."

Park plans his return

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Steve Park will return to Winston Cup competition next week at Darlington Raceway near Darlington, S.C., where a crash last year caused a brain injury that temporarily left him with slurred speech and double vision.

Ty Norris, the vice president at Dale Earnhardt Inc., which owns the car Park will race next week, announced Park's return Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, site of Sunday's MBNA America 500.

In a NASCAR Busch Series race at the South Carolina track in September, Park's car veered out of control under caution and was hit by another car. He had to be cut from the wreckage and spent two days in a hospital.

-- From wire reports

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: