Gordon nabs Watkins Glen pole after rain washes out qualifying

Updated: August 11, 2007, 12:18 PM ET
Associated Press

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 top 12.

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 start.

"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."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press