Rookie Vickers on pole

Rookie Brian Vickers narrowly missed the track record en route to pole position for the Pop Secret 500 NASCAR Nextel Cup event at California Speedway. Vickers scorched the field by more than two-tenths of a second, to take his second pole of the season, his first came at Richmond in May

Rookie Vickers on pole

Vickers, running 29th among the 48 to test the clock, set a lap time of 38.417sec (187.417mph) to bump veteran Bill Elliott from the top spot. Elliott making just the fifth start in his first season of semi-retirement, ran 38.646s. Elliott's team-mate Jeremy Mayfield came along near the end and ran 38.634s for second on the grid.

Vickers has drawn fire from some veterans for supposed rookie mistakes on the track. With two races before NASCAR clumps the top-10 for the championship playoffs, Vickers, 24th in points, is aware of the need to run a clean race.

"I don't necessarily feel any pressure to cut them any breaks," Vickers said of the contenders. "I don't want to upset their chances to be in the championship. I don't want to wreck them or make stupid mistakes like I have done in the past. But I'm not going to cut them any slack. I come here every week to win, just like they do."

California Speedway, like Michigan, historically rewards a fast car. Whether Vickers and crew can keep it in the road for 500 miles is a question he is asking himself.

"We were guessing on it [for qualifying], and it worked out," he said. "We were definitely optimistic. If you asked me before qualifying if we were going to sit on the pole by two tenths, I would have just told you we were going to do our best, and we did."

Compounding the puzzle is that Sunday's race will be in the evening, with the race concluding just before sundown. What worked during daytime practice and qualifying likely will change as the sun sets and the track cools.

"It's going to be different," Vickers said. "There are other races like the Coca-Cola 600 where it goes from day to night. Even though this race won't go completely into the night, it's going to be a big difference. [Evening] is going to give it a lot of grip, and the characteristics of the track are going to change. We don't know what it's going to do exactly. We've just got to guess."

Ryan Newman set the track record here in 2002, running 38.414, a difference of 0.003sec.

All three Evernham cars will start in the top five, with Mayfield second, Elliott third and Kasey Kahne fifth. Points leader Jeff Gordon will start eighth.

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