August 3, 2007
LONG POND, Pa. (cbssportsline.com/AP) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended a stretch of nearly five years without qualifying in first thanks in part to a well-timed rain shower.
Earnhardt won his first pole since September 2002 with a lap of 169.975 mph and took the top spot Friday at Pocono Raceway, a huge benefit for a driver clinging to the final spot in the Chase.
"I try to get them man, but they're hard to get," he said. "I don't put a lot of emphasis on poles. I probably do that because I don't get them so often."
His lap after a 45-minute rain delay nudged Kurt Busch into second with a lap of 169.863 and Kyle Busch was third at 169.782. Earnhardt guessed his car would have qualified between fifth and 12th had it not rained.
Earnhardt had just put his No. 8 Chevrolet on the track for his qualifying lap for Sunday's 500-mile race when it started raining. Once it stopped, Earnhardt took advantage of the cooler temperature and raced to his seventh career pole and first since Sept. 29, 2002 at Kansas Speedway -- a span of 171 races.
Now all he needs is a win. Earnhardt has been without a victory since May 2006 at Richmond.
"Qualifying and racing are two different things," Earnhardt said. "Qualifying takes a different kind of discipline, takes a lot of guts."
Earnhardt needs all the strong finishes he can get in the final six races of the Nextel Cup "regular season." He holds the 12th and final spot for the 10-race Chase. He has a 36th- and 34th-place finish in two of his last three races, and more results like that will hurt his chances significantly.
"The one thing you do feel is more of a loss of confidence," Earnhardt said. "I feel like we keep the momentum by keeping the good attitude."
Kyle Busch trails Junior by 13 points for 12th place. Kurt and Kyle Busch each have four top-five starts this season.
Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top five. Points leader Jeff Gordon was 11th.
"I think I gave it up," Newman said. "I just didn't push quite hard enough in turn three. I was more worried about the car stepping out then I was pushing it fast."
The Associated Press News Service