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Sunday, February 13, 2005
Flu doesn't keep Jarrett from pole win

By Mike Harris
Associated Press

Dale Jarrett
Jarrett
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Jarrett has heard the talk.

The three-time Daytona 500 winner, coming off his first winless season since 1992, knows some people figure that at 48 years old he is no longer one of the drivers to beat.

Don't bet on it.

Jarrett, showing some of the flash that carried him to two previous poles at NASCAR's biggest event, beat out 56 other drivers Sunday in qualifying to take the top spot for next Sunday's season-opening Nextel Cup event.

"You sit and watch and read and listen to everything that's talked about for the Daytona 500, and probably for good reason, you really haven't seen the (No.) 88 car or my name and face for a while,'' Jarrett said. "But we still know what it takes to win at this. We may be getting up there in age, but that doesn't matter. I think we can be considered a car and team to beat on Sunday.''

Jimmie Johnson, coming off a victory Saturday night in the non-points Budweiser Shootout, will share the front row with Jarrett for the 500.

"We're really looking forward to the race,'' Johnson said. "We feel like we've got a better car for the 500 than we had last night.

"We're definitely feeling momentum,'' added Johnson, who narrowly missed the Cup title last year and is considered by many the favorite heading into 2005.

Jeff Gordon, Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, was fastest in Saturday practice at Daytona International Speedway and was the heavy favorite in the garage area to take the pole. It looked like a good prediction when the two-time 500 winner took the top spot early in Sunday's qualifying with a lap of 188.155 mph.

But Jarrett, among the fastest drivers in preseason testing, topped Gordon's Chevrolet with a lap of 188.312, grabbing his first Daytona pole since 2000, when he last won the big race.

Johnson, the 53rd driver to make a qualifying attempt, pushed his teammate to third with a lap of 188.170.

"This is really a good race car,'' said Jarrett, who drives the No. 88 Ford Taurus for Robert Yates Racing. "These guys have been working on this car since October. It's been in the wind tunnel a lot and we had a good test here in January.''

Jarrett, his voice rough from the lingering effects of the flu, said, "I'm still a bit under the weather. I'm trying to get rest at night, but I'm doing all right and things like this certainly make the healing process a lot better.''

Kevin Harvick was a somewhat surprising fourth at 187.914 in a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, followed by the Chevys of MB2/MBV Motorsports teammates Joe Nemechek and Scott Riggs at 187.837 and 187.758, respectively.

Only the front row starters locked in starting spots for next Sunday's race but, under NASCAR's new qualifying rules, the top 35 teams in car owner points are guaranteed starting positions in the race. All Sunday's time trials did for everyone but Jarrett and Johnson was determine where they will start in Thursday's two 150-mile qualifying races.

Rounding out the top 10 in qualifying were Jason Leffler, reigning Cup champion Kurt Busch, Ricky Rudd and Elliott Sadler.

Defending Daytona winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 39th Sunday, but said he was not discouraged.

"The car races really well in the draft,'' Junior said. "If everything works fine, we'll have good race on Thursday and get up front sooner or later.''

The rest of the 43-car race field will be filled solely by qualifying speeds during the rest of the Cup season. But Daytona has a unique qualifying format that includes the qualifying races, upped from 125 miles to 150 this year.

The four fastest drivers Saturday not among the top 35 -- Leffler, Boris Said, Mike Skinner and John Andretti -- locked up starting spots Sunday. The top two non-qualified finishers from each of the 150-milers will also start in the 500.

"What a relief,'' said Andretti, who went out 14th and had to wait nearly two hours to find out if he was locked into the race. "I didn't want to have to drive like a maniac just to make this race.''

Among the 18 drivers who failed to clinch starting spots Sunday were Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr., Earnhardt's half-brother Kerry Earnhardt, Robby Gordon and former Daytona winner Derrike Cope.