Kenseth takes pole, Earn­hardt draws buzz

The two driv­ers are fo­cal points dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing for to­day’s NASCAR com­pe­ti­tion at Con­cord.

Los Angeles Times - - Sports - By Jim Peltz

CON­CORD, N.C. — Thanks to quick work by his pit crew, Matt Kenseth won the pole po­si­tion Fri­day for tonight’s Nex­tel All-Star Chal­lenge at the 1.5-mile Lowe’s Mo­tor Speed­way.

The 80-lap, no-points NASCAR stock car race fea­tures 21 Nex­tel Cup driv­ers com­pet­ing for a $1-mil­lion first prize to the win­ning team.

The race has a unique qual­i­fy­ing for­mat of three laps plus a pit stop to change four tires. Kenseth, who won the race in 2004, had the quick­est pit stop, 11.6 sec­onds, in his Roush Fen­way Rac­ing Ford and an over­all time of 2.14 min­utes for an av­er­age speed of 133.442 mph.

Jim­mie John­son — the de­fend­ing race win­ner, reign­ing Cup cham­pion and a win­ner of five Cup races at the Lowe’s oval — qual­i­fied his Hendrick Chevro­let sec­ond at 2.32 min­utes or 131.490 mph.

Eigh­teen driv­ers al­ready are set for the All-Star race as Cup race win­ners in 2006 and 2007, for­mer All-Star win­ners or for­mer Cup cham­pi­ons.

They’ll be joined by the two driv­ers who fin­ish first and sec­ond in the Nex­tel Open, a 40-lap race tonight that pre­cedes the All-Star event.

Kenseth’s team­mate Carl Ed­wards won the pole for the Open — which did not in­clude a pit stop — with a qual­i­fy­ing lap of 187.487 mph, then said that if he won the All-Star race, he would do­nate his por­tion of the $1 mil­lion to chil­dren’s char­i­ties.

The fi­nal driver, voted in by fans, will be an­nounced tonight.

Chevy driver Dale Earn­hardt Jr. qual­i­fied 10th and re­mained at cen­ter stage Fri­day be­cause of his re­cent de­ci­sion to leave his team af­ter this sea­son and be­cause his cur­rent team drew a stiff penalty from NASCAR on Tues­day.

The sport’s most pop­u­lar driver an­nounced May 10 that he would leave Dale Earn­hardt Inc. (DEI), the team started by his late fa­ther and owned by his step­mother, Teresa Earn­hardt, with whom the younger Earn­hardt has never been close.

Earn­hardt, whose con­tract ex­pires af­ter this sea­son, said he had be­gun talk­ing with other teams but that there was no dead­line for mak­ing the switch.

“I’m go­ing to lis­ten to ev­ery­body,” he added.

Asked if he’d spo­ken to Teresa since mak­ing his an­nounce­ment, he replied, “I sure haven’t.”

Earn­hardt also said his fans “have been great about sup­port­ing me” in the move.

“I al­ways knew that I had earned some of my dad’s fans just by be­ing his son and only by be­ing his son,” he said. But the re­ac­tion has been “over­whelm­ing and a big sur­prise, the fan sup­port that I’ve had,” he added.

Be­fore last week’s race at Dar­ling­ton, S.C., NASCAR pe­nal­ized Earn­hardt’s team for hav­ing im­proper mount­ing brack­ets on the rear wing of his No. 8 Chevro­let.

Earn­hardt was docked 100 cham­pi­onship points. His crew chief and cousin, Tony Eury Jr., was fined $100,000 and sus­pended for seven races.

But Eury, who claimed the parts were left on the car un­in­ten­tion­ally, was still with the team Fri­day while ap­peal­ing the penalty. Earn­hardt, who has promised to pay Eury’s fine, said he’d an­tic­i­pated a penalty, but the length of Eury’s sus­pen­sion “was a sur­prise.”

“I sup­port Tony Jr.,” he said. “Not to be taken out of con­text — I’m not proud of cheat­ing, but I was proud of him try­ing to give me ev­ery ad­van­tage.”

In an­other de­vel­op­ment, DEI an­nounced that it was merg­ing its en­gine pro­gram with Richard Chil­dress Rac­ing, an­other lead­ing Chevy team, in a bid to help DEI re­turn to track promi­nence.

NASCAR lost its le­gal ef­fort to stop AT&T Inc. from fea­tur­ing its logo on Jeff Bur­ton’s No. 31 Chevro­let. U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge Marvin Shoob in At­lanta is­sued a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion bar­ring NASCAR from in­ter­fer­ing with AT&T’s rights as the pri­mary spon­sor of the Chil­dress car in the Cup se­ries.

The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this re­port.

james.peltz@la­times.com

Chuck Bur­ton As­so­ci­ated Press

JUST 11.6 SEC­ONDS:

Matt Kenseth’s crew was in top form at Con­cord, where qual­i­fy­ing in­cludes a pit stop to change four tires.

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