Qualifying: Chevy clean sweep

Chevrolet drivers filled the first five places in qualifying for the Pepsi 400 at Michigan. Dale Earnhardt Jr was quickest, the only driver to get into the 37s.

Qualifying: Chevy clean sweep

It was the first time the Monte Carlos had run with their increased front valences and naturally all the talk was of a rules break that had gone too far, something that the drivers strongly denied.

"I'm sure we're going to hear a lot about how it's improved us with all five positions being Chevrolets," Earnhardt Jr said. "We qualified third earlier this year. We've qualified great here every time, so I don't think it's had a huge affect on us.

"Sunday is going to be a different day. The track always gets tighter, and it's always harder for us to get our cars to turn. Hopefully that will help us out."

Third fastest qualifier Michael Waltrip was more forceful.

"Please, do not think that because we're one through five that it has anything to do with that extension," he said. "All these cars are taped off solid in the front. We pull the fenders in. We have all the front downforce we want for qualifying.

"So whoever leads their story tomorrow with the title, 'Chevrolet gets rules change and sweeps qualifying', is not very smart because you'll have to wait and see what happens on Sunday."

Junior, who has struggled through the summer, won his first pole of the season and first since Atlanta last autumn. He made his timed lap in 37.961sec (189.668mph), well short of his track record.

Morning rain pushed the day's schedule forward, with Winston Cup qualifying delayed until about 6:30pm. The evening cool helped many late-drawing drivers improve.

It wasn't just Chevrolet. Two Chevrolet teams dominated, with all three DEI cars in the top five (Waltrip third, Steve Park fourth), and two of the three RCR Chevys (Kevin Harvick second, Robby Gordon fifth).

Harvick came along late with a 38.067s, which did not threaten Earnhardt. Earnhardt had knocked team-mate Waltrip from the front spot, with Waltrip running a 38.090s.

Waltrip has started in the top-five seven times this season, including second here in June, but is still awaiting his first career pole in 520 tries.

"I'm just a little disappointed in that," he said. "We've had five poles this year, and someone has knocked us off of all five of them and I wound up second every time."

The best non-Chevy qualifier was Bill Elliott, sixth in a Dodge. Elliott has won seven times at this track, behind only David Pearson (nine) and Cale Yarborough (eight) in the all-time list.

The fastest Ford was that of Dale Jarrett, in eighth. Bobby Labonte led the Pontiac platoon in 11th place. All cautioned that the proof would come in Sunday's Pepsi 400 main event.

There were two added starters. Stacy Compton, set free when owner Mark Melling suspended operations after last season, returned to Melling's car at the team's home track and qualified 23rd, with one-race sponsorship from consumer products company Regal.

Greg Biffle, attempting his second race in a pre-rookie run, missed on time and was short on points for a provisional. He was the only driver to miss the field.

Points leader Sterling Marlin struggled again, qualifying 26th, but did not seem worried.

Two drivers lost cars in practice, apparently after slipping in oil from Jeff Green's car. Mike Skinner and Jimmie Johnson wrecked and went to back-up cars, with Skinner qualifying 14th and Johnson 29th. Neither man was hurt.

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