Kenseth takes pole, Earnhardt draws buzz
The two drivers are focal points during qualifying for today’s NASCAR competition at Concord.
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.
JUST 11.6 SECONDS:Matt Kenseth’s crew was in top form at Concord, where qualifying includes a pit stop to change four tires.