Qualifying: Defiant Park sets pole

Steve Park won the pole at the California Speedway on Friday then made a point of letting his critics know what he thought. Park has struggled to be competitive this season and paddock rumours have suggested that he may be replaced at DEI by mid-season

Qualifying: Defiant Park sets pole

Park has not been on pole since November 2000 at Homestead and had not qualified better than 12th at any race this season.

Park has been plagued with injuries during his seven-year Winston Cup career. His rookie season was cut short when he suffered a broken thigh and other injuries in a wreck at Atlanta. Then, in summer 2001, in the Busch race at Darlington, Park lost control under a caution and was hit broadside by the car of Larry Foyt. Park suffered severe head injuries which put him out of action well into 2002.

Although Park was cleared medically before the 2002 season, questions have been raised about whether he has returned to full fitness. In addition, his results have suffered in comparison with those of more glamorous DEI team-mates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip.

"The media rumours about me losing my job and not being with DEI, well our contract's up at the end of the year and I guarantee you I plan on being in that car the rest of the year," Park said afterwards.

"I don't race to finish 20th, I race to win. If I don't have confidence in this team, I need to go somewhere else. But I have the confidence, Tony Gibson, all the new people we hired, that we can run up front and win races.

"That'll quiet all the critics. All the hogwash I have the read that the press puts out there - dish it out, I can take it all. And you know who's going to look like a fool when it's all done? All the press people. All the people who had a bad thing to say about this race team is going to bite their tongue. I'm going to put it in their face and show it to them they were wrong."

Bill Elliott had led most of the session but considered himself a sitting duck, with Park and Ryan Newman to follow. "Steve has been through a lot," veteran Elliott said graciously. "I'm really proud of what he did here today."

Elliot ended the session second fastest ahead of defending champion Tony Stewart, with Newman settling for fourth. Elliot Sadler and Jerry Nadeau rounded out the top six.


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