Gordon wins Cup pole for COT debut at Bristol

Updated: March 24, 2007, 2:07 AM ET
Associated Press

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Jeff Gordon won the first pole of the Car of Tomorrow era, putting his Chevrolet Impala in the top starting spot at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday.

Nextel Cup Qualifying
Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon won the pole for Sunday's Nextel Cup race (2 p.m. ET), turning the half-mile oval at Bristol Motor Speedway at 125.453 mph on Friday. The top 20 qualifiers:

1. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevy
2. (9) Kasey Kahne, Dodge
3. (19) Elliott Sadler, Dodge
4. (20) Tony Stewart, Chevy
5. (26) Jamie McMurray, Ford
6. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevy
7. (22) Dave Blaney, Toyota
8. (10) Scott Riggs, Dodge
9. (66) Jeff Green, Chevy
10. (11) Denny Hamlin, Chevy
11. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford
12. (01) Regan Smith, Chevy
13. (1) Martin Truex Jr., Chevy
14. (4) Ward Burton, Chevy
15. (21) Ken Schrader, Ford
16. (25) Casey Mears, Chevy
17. (96) Tony Raines, Chevy
18. (07) Clint Bowyer, Chevy
19. (49) Mike Bliss, Dodge
20. (5) Kyle Busch, Chevy

• Grid | Surround: Bristol

Gordon ran a lap at 125.453 mph to win his fifth career pole at Bristol. He beat Evernham Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler, who qualified second and third in Dodge Avengers.

Kahne posted a lap at 125.313 mph, while Sadler came in at 125.183.

"Did I mention how much I love the Car of Tomorrow?" joked Gordon, critical of the car during its developmental stage.

"I've said the whole time, whether I like the car or not, we are going to do our best to be competitive. I don't care what the car is."

Chevrolet and Dodge are both introducing new models with the COT, a NASCAR-developed car that makes its Nextel Cup debut on Sunday. Ford is sticking with its Fusion model, and Toyota, in its first year at NASCAR's top level, is using the Camry.

The COT spent seven years in development, and NASCAR hopes it will improve safety, reduce team costs and improve the competition. Bristol is the first of the 16 races that will use the COT this season. It's scheduled to be phased in through 2009, but NASCAR hopes teams will ask to use the car full-time next year.

Based on Friday's results, the Toyota teams probably want to use the COT everywhere.

The Japanese automaker has struggled to get its cars into the first four races this season, and hit a low three weeks ago in Las Vegas when only two of seven Camrys made the field.

But five Toyota drivers qualified at Bristol, including A.J. Allmendinger and Jeremy Mayfield, who will make their long-awaited season debuts on Sunday.

Allmendinger, a former Champ Car star, has had a rough transition to NASCAR. His Team Red Bull car struggled in qualifying, and he had his heart broken in Las Vegas when he was bumped out of the race by the final driver attempting to make the field.

But he's in this week, and will start 43rd. Brian Vickers, his teammate who scored Toyotas best finish of the season with a 10th at California, qualified 25th.

"That was pretty wild," Allmendinger said. "Qualifying for these races is a hard deal, it's one of the hardest things I've ever done in my career. It's easy to get discouraged but I haven't given up."

Mayfield, who also missed the first four races, qualified 23rd to put both of Bill Davis Racing's entries in the race. Dave Blaney qualified seventh.

"I think we've taken the disappointment of the first four races like men," Mayfield said. "We don't want people to feel sorry for us. Nobody has given up."

The struggles continued for Michael Waltrip Racing, which only put Dale Jarrett in the field. Waltrip failed to qualify for the fourth consecutive week, and rookie David Reutimann also missed the cut.

The lone bright spot for Waltrip is that Jarrett qualified on speed and didn't have to use one of his two remaining provisionals to make the field. Jarrett has used four of his allotted six past champion's provisionals this season.

NASCAR's complicated qualifying process assures the top 35 drivers from 2006 a spot in the first five races this year. Starting next week, it switches over to the top 35 current drivers.

The rules make for a tense qualifying day now that 49 full-time teams are vying for just 43 spots each week.

Sterling Marlin is the only driver not already locked into the field to make all five races. Joe Nemechek, his teammate at Ginn Racing, failed to make the race for the first time this season.

Regan Smith, meanwhile, qualified 12th in the third Ginn entry. That car is normally driven by Mark Martin, the current Nextel Cup points leader, but he ended his streak of 621 consecutive starts this weekend in his attempt to ease away from a full-time schedule.

Tony Stewart, a fierce critic of the COT, qualified fourth. He was followed by Jamie McMurray in a Ford and Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, winner of the past two Cup races.

Blaney, Scott Riggs, Jeff Green and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 10.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press