WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Jeff Gordon started from the back of
the field in NASCAR's first road race of the Nextel Cup season
after his team was penalized for a technical violation. This time,
he'll start from the pole.
A misting rain that hovered above Watkins Glen International on
Friday became too heavy mid-afternoon and forced NASCAR to cancel
qualifying for Sunday's Centurion Boats at The Glen.
It's the third time qualifying has been rained out this season
in Cup and the third time in four years it's been washed out at
Watkins Glen International. As the runaway points leader, that
placed Gordon up front in his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet as the top 35
cars in the 43-car field were set by points.
"It's one of the reasons that leading the points like we are
right now, it's where the payoff is," Gordon said after capturing
his sixth pole this season and 62nd of his career. "It's just one
of those days. I was in the pace car riding around and the track
was dry but the windshield was wet. I thought we were going to find
a window, but it just keeps rolling in and making parts of the
track wet. There was just no getting around that."
The cancellation left Denny Hamlin on the front row alongside
Gordon, and Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, and Tony Stewart round out
the top five. Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer Martin Truex Jr., and Kurt Busch complete the
Gordon struggled when he first went out for the lone practice
session and ended up turning only five laps. But after making some
adjustments in the garage, he finished with the fifth-fastest speed
at 120.802 mph and was optimistic about qualifying in the Car of
Tomorrow, even though he was to have gone out second and teams
weren't allowed to test at Watkins Glen.
"Obviously, I didn't draw a good number for qualifying,"
Gordon said. "Going out second wasn't going to benefit us. We had
to make some pretty big adjustments to get the car where we needed
it to be, and we still didn't even have it perfect there toward the
end. I didn't think we were going to be on the pole today if we had
gone, but I think we had a shot at the top five."
Hamlin topped the speed charts at 121.528 mph, followed by
Jimmie Johnson, Canadian road race ace Ron Fellows and Jamie McMurray. Rookie Juan Pablo Montoya was seventh-fastest and
Stewart, who has won three of the past five races here, was 10th.
The misting conditions sent six drivers home who had to qualify
for the race on speed: Boris Said, Ward Burton, A.J. Allmendinger,
Brian Simo, Klaus Graf, and Marcos Ambrose, who was to have driven
a car provided by Robby Gordon.
Ambrose was cheated out of a chance to win his first NASCAR race
when Robby Gordon intentionally wrecked him in the closing laps of
a Busch Series race last weekend in Montreal.
If he had qualified, it would have been Ambrose's first Cup
"You'd like to see qualifying because a lot of guys have to
qualify on time," Hamlin said. "They deserve to be in the field
based on their speed. It's just the system we work in. If you're
not here every week, then you don't get the perks of being
guaranteed in the show."
Which left Said as frustrated as ever as he turned his focus to
Saturday's Busch race.
"NASCAR should have had us qualify tomorrow," said Said, who
had the provisional pole at Daytona last month before qualifying
was rained out. "The Busch race isn't until 3 o'clock in the
afternoon. There's no reason you can't come in here and practice
and qualify. They say they want the small teams, but they don't
want the small teams. This pretty much puts us out of business."