SONOMA, Calif. -- Jeff Gordon flung his Chevrolet through
the twisting turns at Infineon Raceway, driving through the dirt,
bouncing across the washboard-like curbs and nearly bouncing off a
concrete wall coming off the final turn Friday.
"We're on a mission,'' Gordon said after winning the pole for
Sunday's NASCAR's Nextel Cup race with a record-breaking lap on the
1.99-mile, 10-turn circuit. "We're not happy with the way things
have been going for us lately and all we can do is attack, attack,
Gordon took his second pole in a row, third of the season and
49th of his career with a time of 1:15.968, breaking the record of
1:16.522 set last year by road-racing specialist Boris Said.
Gordon's speed was 94.303 mph.
Gordon chalked up the record to the newly repaved track and a
new tire from Goodyear. He was surprised nobody was able to beat a
lap he acknowledged wasn't very pretty.
"I felt like I left the door wide open for some of those guys
to put us back a few spots,'' he said.
Gordon was the 10th of 42 drivers who made qualifying attempts
for the Dodge/Save Mart 350.
"I got off the track a little bit over there in turn two,''
Gordon said. "I can't seem to get away from that spot on the
racetrack. That's the same thing we did last year, just not quite
as far off the track.''
NASCAR's leading road race winner with seven victories has won
three times here -- twice from the pole.
Rusty Wallace and Kurt Busch also were quicker than Said's
record, but couldn't match Gordon.
Wallace, driving a Dodge, was disappointed after running a lap
"When I saw (Gordon) go off course over there, I thought I
could beat that,'' Wallace said. "I thought I threw a pole away
with that one. I didn't have any problem, but I looked down and
thought I had the emergency brake on. I just thought the car had a
lot more in it.''
Busch's Ford got around the course in 1:16.333. He said his
team's decision to qualify on slightly used rather than new tires
probably made the difference.
"It's a question where we were in a Catch-22,'' Busch said.
"Do we go conservative or do we go for the pole?
"I saw Gordon make his mistake and it opened the door up, but I
knew that we just weren't quite good enough because we went out on
scuffed tires instead of stickers.''
Gordon waited nervously for other contenders, including Said,
defending race winner Robby Gordon, Ricky Rudd and Tony Stewart to
take their shot.
Jeff Gordon said he told crew chief Robbie Loomis, "I can't
believe we're going to get this pole.''
But all of them had problems, with Rudd qualifying 12th, Stewart
17th, Said 19th and the other Gordon 24th.
Robby Gordon, who also won the road race last summer in Watkins
Glen, N.Y., shrugged off the poor qualifying effort.
"It doesn't matter,'' he said. "It's one lap. On Sunday, you
just keep the fenders on the car and you'll be OK. It will make it
Series leader Jimmie Johnson, whose car owner is Jeff Gordon,
fared even worse, qualifying 34th. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who trails
Johnson in the standings by just seven points, will start 20th in
Sunday's 43-car field.
"It's different because the track is a lot faster,'' Earnhardt
said. "You've got to try to take it easy and not get over your
head, but it's real easy to get over your head.''