Elliott ties track record after racing to Pocono pole

Saturday, July 27, 2002

LONG POND, Pa. -- Bill Elliott was the fastest qualifier for the second week in a row, and tied the record Friday for the most career poles at Pocono Raceway.

On Sunday, in the Pennsylvania 500, Elliott will try to become the first driver to win five times on the mountaintop. Despite that, he hasn't done well on the track in recent years, last winning in 1989.

But his prospects have changed in his second season driving for Ray Evernham after folding his own team.

"This team has done so well this year," Elliott said. "We've just communicated real well. They just keep digging it out."

The pole was his fourth this year -- giving Elliott the lead in the Winston Cup series -- and the 55th overall for the 46-year-old driver. It also was his fifth at Pocono, matching Ken Schrader's track record.

Elliott's Dodge sped around the 2 1/2-mile triangular-shaped track in 52.765 seconds, posting a fast lap of 170.568 mph. That was far short of Tony Stewart's two-year-old track record of 172.391.

But Elliott was consistently fast, posting the third-quickest speed in practice at 169.393. His first qualifying lap was fast enough to win the pole, but Elliott took another and went even quicker.

"I felt like I didn't get it done on the first lap," Elliott said. "All the guys on the team said just go for it, so I was just digging."

Most drivers, faced with NASCAR's one-engine rule for each race, are reluctant to try a second fast lap. If an engine must be changed, a driver is forced to go to the rear of the field.

Elliott, the 1988 Winston Cup champion, was hoping to convert the pole into his 42nd career victory. He also won the pole for the race last Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway, but a mechanical problem left him nine laps down to winner Ward Burton in 17th place.

IRL: It's hard to imagine Sam Hornish Jr. being uncomfortable before any Indy Racing League event.

The defending IRL champion is the only driver with three victories this year and he has finished third and second since winning at Richmond International Raceway a month ago.

But Hornish has never turned a competitive lap at Michigan International Speedway, which on Sunday will host its first IRL race, the Michigan Indy 400.

"I'm not comfortable here with the car on this racetrack, yet," Hornish said Friday. "But we've got until Sunday to get that taken care of."

Buddy Rice, making his IRL driving debut, had the best lap of 221.833 mph during two practices sessions on Friday. Hornish turned a lap of 219.809 mph, which ranked ninth among 25 drivers.

Qualifying is today.

While Hornish wasn't familiar with the speedway's 2-mile oval, he did win the Yamaha Indy 400 in March at California Speedway, which is similar.

Hornish said about the only difference is there is more banking here.

"Both are 2-mile tracks and they're wide, so you can pass and it will probably be a close race," Hornish said.

-- From wire reports

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