Nemechek rules Talledega qualifying

Joe Nemechek earned the nickname "Front Row Joe," but not for qualifying on pole in NASCAR's Winston Cup series. He did that for the first time this year for Sunday's Winston 500 race at Talladega Superspeedway. The Florida native must like the track - and the engine restrictions employed here - as his last pole was here at the former Alabama Speedway a year ago

Nemechek rules Talledega qualifying

One of the fastest drivers in practice, Nemechek's Chevrolet toured the 2.66-mile super-banked tri-oval in just 50.326 seconds, or 190.279 mph.

1988 Ford champion Bill Elliott will share the front row with a speed .062 seconds slower. Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jerry Nadeau and Tony Stewart rounded out the top five on a sunny day with temperatures in the 70s.

"Everybody has been working hard, especially the motor shop," Nemechek said. "With all the new rules, everybody had a new starting point. I know the aero guys worked real hard and the motor guys. That's what it takes. You've got to have good horsepower. The car is driving real good, and I'm looking forward to getting in race mode."

The rules to which Nemechek refer allow more horsepower with the restrictor plates being opened up from 7/8ths of an inch to one inch. There has also been a very small spoiler added to the top of the roof 10 inches back from the top of the front windshield. The spoiler will extend across the top of the entire roof.

More horsepower generally means more speed. The addition of the roof spoiler and a change to the rear spoiler will add more downforce to the cars.

For the casual observer, the cars seemed to present a new advertising opportunity with the odd spoiler breaking the normally aerodynamic design.

"The cars are different," Nemechek said. "They definitely drive different than where we were last year at this point. Last year I was on the pole here right at 199 miles per hour. We're nine miles per hour slower, but the cars drive really good. Last year the cars really sucked down to the race track. It's kind of hairy making your qualifying runs. The mode we're in now, I think they're going to race great."

Talladega is The Home of The Big Wreck, a predictable 12-car pileup that collects leaders and frontrunners alike. Air intake was limited here and Daytona more than a decade ago after Bill Elliott qualified for a race in excess of 212 mph. The fear of cars going airborne was very real. But the reality is almost as bad, as the field of 43 runs as one unit, two and three-wide for as long as 20 laps until the leaders shake the tow.

The close-quarters racing is a major hurdle in the championship hopes of points leader Bobby Labonte. The Texas native has enjoyed a nearly pristine season when it comes to luck, but a bad result would put him in the sights of Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Burton, who are one bad race out of being contenders.

Labonte is making his own luck, however, qualifying ahead of the rabble in the third row. Earnhardt, usually a master qualifier at restrictor-plate races, was just 19th fastest. Besides his son, Earnhardt test-driver Dave Marcis impressed all when he was just .518 seconds off the pole and will start ninth.

Top drivers failing to qualifying in the first round of time trails included Mark Martin, in the Valvoline Ford 26th, Jeff Burton, in the CITGO Ford in 37th, Rusty Wallace, in the Miller Ford in 38th, and Jeremy Mayfield, in the Mobil One Ford in 44th.

1 33 Joe Nemechek Chev 50.326 190.279mph
2 94 Bill Elliott Ford 50.388
3 8 Dale EarnhardtJr Chev 50.562
4 25 Jerry Nadeau Chev 50.681
5 20 Tony Stewart Pont 50.713
6 18 Bobby Labonte Pont 50.737
7 55 Kenny Wallace Chev 50.811
8 24 Jeff Gordon Chev 50.817
9 71 Dave Marcis Chev 50.844
10 1 Steve Park Chev 50.934
11 28 Ricky Rudd Ford 50.948
12 88 Dale Jarrett Ford 51.005
13 9 Stacy Compton Ford 51.115
14 36 Ken Schrader Pont 51.116
15 43 John Andretti Pont 51.122
16 16 Kevin Lepage Ford 51.231
17 5 Terry Labonte Chev 51.247
18 4 Bobby Hamilton Chev 51.262
19 3 Dale Earnhardt Chev 51.263
20 22 Ward Burton Pont 51.296
21 26 Jimmy Spencer Ford 51.340
22 7 Michael Waltrip Chev 51.347
23 10 Johnny Benson Pont 51.388
24 31 Mike Skinner Chev 51.439
25 21 Elliott Sadler Ford 51.462
26 6 Mark Martin Ford 51.466
27 60 Rick Bickle Chev 51.474
28 14 Rick Mast Pont 51.482
29 01 Ted Musgrave Chev 51.484
30 44 Kyle Petty Pont 51.535
31 40 Sterling Marlin Chev 51.552
32 93 Dave Blaney Pont 51.566
33 32 Scott Pruett Ford 51.583
34 17 Matt Kenseth Ford 51.672
35 27 Mike Bliss Pont 51.674
36 97 Chad Little Ford 51.696
37 99 Jeff Burton Ford 51.728
38 2 Rusty Wallace Ford 51.757
39 77 Robert Pressley Ford 51.757
40 50 Ricky Craven Chev 51.793
41 11 Brett Bodine Ford 51.850
42 66 Darrell Waltrip Ford 52.064
43 12 Jeremy Mayfield Ford 52.069
44 90 Hut Stricklin Ford 52.098
45 91 Blaise Alexander Chev 52.192
46 75 W ally Dallenbach Chev 52.225

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