Earnhardt powers to first pole of season

Saturday, August 17, 2002

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. beat Kevin Harvick, his teammates and darkness to win his first pole of the season in qualifying Friday for the Pepsi 400.

Rain delayed the start of the session by nearly four hours at Michigan Speedway, and visibility was waning as the last of the 44 cars took a time at about 7:30 p.m..

Earnhardt drove his to a lap of 189.668 mph for his fifth career pole as Chevrolets swept the top five spots. It's his first pole since last November, and his second at Michigan.

He holds the track record of 191.149, set two years ago.

"It wasn't perfect," Earnhardt said. "I got loose in Turns 3 and 4 and had to lift a little over there.

"I made a commitment this week to try to do what I can to help this team do better, to try to get ourselves back to Victory Lane where I think we should be. This is a good step in that direction."

Harvick, the final car to run, was a tick slower at 189.026.

"This track is pretty weather sensitive," he said. "We had a good draw today and we'll take it. We'll take the good and roll along with it."

Earnhardt teammates Michael Waltrip and Steve Park were next, followed by Robby Gordon.

Dodge teammates Bill Elliott and Jeremy Mayfield nailed down the next two positions. Dale Jarrett, Ryan Newman and John Andretti rounded out the top 10.

Earnhardt has struggled since his victory in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega in May moved him to fifth in the point standings. He only has two top-10s in the 13 races since, and he's slipped to 17th in points.

Jimmie Johnson, the leading Rookie of the Year contender, crashed his car in practice and had to use backup. He ran the 29th-best lap.

Point leader Sterling Marlin qualified 26th, and Mark Martin, his closest pursuer, was 17th.

Jeff Gordon, trying to snap a 30-race losing streak, will start 19th.

Elsewhere

* BUSCH SERIES: Kevin Lepage made the most of a late draw, nipping Michael Waltrip for the pole in rain-delayed qualifying for the NASCAR Busch series Cabela's 250 at Michigan Speedway.

* CART: Series points leader Cristiano da Matta earned a point, wresting the provisional pole for the Motorola 220 from fellow Brazilian Bruno Junqueira on his final lap at Elkhart Lake, Wis.

-- From wire reports

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