Sadler captures Talladega pole
Published: Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 12:56 a.m.
TALLADEGA, Ala. - While nearly everyone is watching the 10-man NASCAR Nextel Cup championship battle, Elliott Sadler is chasing an 11th-place finish that would pay his team a $1 million bonus and provide momentum for 2006.
Sadler got a leg up on the competition Friday by winning the pole for the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in the No. 38 Ford with a lap of 189.260 mph.
Sadler, who came up just 66 points short of making it into the playoff-style Chase for the championship, is back up to 11th after finishing sixth last Sunday in Dover. But only 137 points separate the Robert Yates Racing driver from teammate Dale Jarrett, 15th in the standings.
In between are Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray and four-time series champion and four-time Talladega winner Jeff Gordon.
''We're still frustrated not being in the top 10,'' Sadler said. ''I think we're a good enough team to be in the Chase, but we're not going to hang our heads and cry about it. There's a lot of good race teams out there.
''(Finishing 11th) is very important to us, but our No. 1 goal, and it's going to start Sunday, is to get some wins,'' added Sadler, whose last of three victories came last September at California Speedway.
It was Sadler's fifth career pole and third of the season, but his first since Kevin Buskirk became his crew chief in a shake-up two weeks ago that also included Jarrett's team.
''Kevin's done a great job,'' Sadler said. ''He's been the man behind the scenes for the last two years. Everybody's been behind him the last two weeks and things are going really well.''
Harvick qualified second for Sunday's race at 189.032, but was sent to the back of the 43-car field after his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet failed inspection. NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said a post-qualifying inspection found ''several violations in the trunk area of the car.''
That moved Jarrett up to second at 188.776, followed by two of the contenders for the title, Ryan Newman at 188.596 and Tony Stewart at 188.570.
The rest of the championship contenders were spread throughout the field, with Greg Biffle eighth, series leader Jimmie Johnson ninth, Carl Edwards 10th, Matt Kenseth 11th, Kurt Busch 21st, Mark Martin 24th and Jeremy Mayfield 32nd. Series runner-up Rusty Wallace, who blew an engine before finishing his first qualifying lap, will also start at the rear.
''We were sixth in practice and I really thought I had a legitimate shot at the pole,'' Wallace said. ''But, as soon as I fired it up and pulled out, I knew I was in trouble. The engine just welded itself shut.''
While most drivers preach patience at Talladega, a track where the field is usually bunched up in long freight trains, two- and three-wide, Wallace said he will be aggressive.
Asked about strategy for Sunday, he said, ''Get your car handling really good, strike really quick and get it all up there. Don't mess around and hang out in the middle of the pack. I'm going to draft as hard as I can and try to get that thing up through there.''
Gordon, who has won three of the last four races here, will start 12th, while five-time Talladega winner and defending race champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 20th.
''Everybody passed inspection and all of the shocks, in regard to parts and pieces, were completely legal,'' Nextel Cup director John Darby said Friday. ''But the build of the shocks that the teams chose to use is a direction that we're not real fond of.''
Darby said both cars were initially too high, but sank back within the required specifications as the shocks bled out air over a period of about 30 seconds.
''We hold a lot of responsibility for policing the sport, but, at the same time, we have to give the competitors the benefit of the doubt if we can, so that's why that process is repeated,'' Darby said. ''Honestly, another reason it's repeated is so we're sure of what we're seeing, not something goofy, not a mistake.''
No penalties were handed down, but Darby said a technical bulletin precluding the type of shock absorber used at Dover by race winner Johnson and runner-up Busch will be issued to the Cup crew chiefs sometime this weekend.
There was no rush to get the bulletin out because NASCAR hands out its own shocks and rear springs to the teams at Talladega and Daytona International Speedway, the only tracks where carburetor restrictor plates are used to slow the cars.
''From a rule book standpoint,'' Darby said, ''these are the facts: the cars passed postrace inspection last Sunday night in regards to the shock absorbers themselves after being tested and disassembled and everything. All the parts and pieces are well within the confines of the rulebook.
''However, the shock build - that is the assembly of the shock and what the shock is intended to do with that build - it's not within the spirit and the intent of what our shock absorber rules surround. Simply put, we prefer that shock absorbers are used for shock absorbers, which is a device which controls the frequency of a spring, not to be a spring assist or a jack or anything else.''
Darby said NASCAR officials were bothered most by how high the two cars were riding during the race.
''From watching the cars on the racetrack - and a little bit from postrace inspection - it was obvious that a procedure was developed to - I won't even go as far as to say raise the car in the back - but one thing we're pretty comfortable with is it surely wasn't traveling in a downward motion as most normal cars do.''
Chad Knaus, crew chief for Johnson, who leads the points heading into Sunday's UAW-Ford 500, doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.
''I'm still kind of confused because I don't know what all the uproar is about because there was nothing wrong with the car,'' he said. ''It met the height requirements, the shocks were perfectly legal, there wasn't anything wrong.
''If there was something wrong, there would have been fines, penalties, suspensions, whatever it is that they would deem necessary because they do such a good job of inspecting these cars.''
The cars of both Johnson and his rookie teammate failed inspection early in the season at Las Vegas for a height violations - Johnson's was too low and Busch's too high. NASCAR fined Knaus $35,000 and docked both Johnson and Jeff Gordon, listed as his car owner, 25 points, as well as fining Alan Gustafson, Busch's crew chief, $25,000 and docking the driver and car owner Rick Hendrick each 25 points. Two-week suspensions levied against the two crew chiefs were overturned by appeal.
''Without clear-cut evidence in the parts and pieces and the thing we do in inspection that would prove the cars to be outside the rulebook, we don't have the ability to react to that,'' Darby said when asked why there were no penalties this time.
Gordon, a four-time series champion, said he doesn't agree with NASCAR changing the shock rules.
''I think at the beginning of the year, when they make their rulebook and teams are out there and have been creative and figure out ways to make their car a little bit better through ingenuity, I think that's a part of the sport.'' he said.
''I haven't seen any dominance out there that really makes it look like 'Oh boy, now we've got a problem.' I think what's happened now is you've got teams complaining.''
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