<
>

Last indeed shall be first

CONCORD, N.C. -- A late draw was the all Jimmie Johnson
needed.

Going out last of the 52 drivers, Johnson edged Ryan Newman for
the pole Thursday night in qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 at
Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Johnson's lap of 187.052 mph was a track record, besting the
mark Newman set earlier in the session.

"The way I got through Turns 1 and 2, I knew the car was really
hooked up,'' Johnson said. "I got a little loose in Turn 3 and had
to pause on the gas pedal, and I was a little nervous coming off
Turn 4.

"I told the guys, 'Let me know if I've got this thing.' Shortly
thereafter, I heard screaming and yelling, so I figured that was
good enough.''

Newman won both poles at Lowe's last season, and held both the
Nextel Cup and overall track record. In October 2000, he ran
186.780 in qualifying for an ARCA race.

"It's just a lap, but I'd like to have it,'' Newman said.
"We'll talk about that when we come back in October, when we come
back and make another attempt to get it back.''

Newman, Jeff Gordon, Elliott Sadler and rookie Brian Vickers
rounded out the top five. Matt Kenseth, who won the Nextel All-Star
Challenge at Lowe's last week, ended up 37th, and points leader
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 10th.

Biffle, Busch make up
For now, Greg Biffle is no longer mad at
Kurt Busch.

In last Saturday's Nextel All-Star Challenge, Busch bumped his
Roush Racing teammate into the wall on the frontstretch and started
an 11-car pileup. Biffle blasted Busch in the immediate aftermath,
and they didn't talk until Tuesday.

And then, it was on the phone.

"That helped solidify things,'' Busch said. "It's been real
easy to work through this because of how long I've known Biffle. So
we've got things ironed out.''

Busch admittedly erred in his attempt to help Biffle pass Matt
Kenseth, another Roush teammate. Biffle understood it was an
accident, but that didn't help much.

"I think getting wrecked on the straightaway by your teammate
certainly would be something to set a guy off,'' Biffle said.
"That would be like your neighbor burning down your house by
accident -- you're going to be upset.''

Rudd's newfound power
Ricky Rudd has the advantage this week.

Ford has a new cylinder head which provides more horsepower, but
only a small number of them are available. And since they are a bit
experimental, Biffle and Jeff Burton declined the offer to use them
this weekend.

Rudd was the only driver to accept them.

"We'll take it, we need all the help we can get,'' Rudd said.
"I'm sure it's a deal where other guys probably didn't trust them
to last the whole 600 miles.''

Roush, one of the developers of the new head, advised Biffle and
Burton to turn down the new parts.

"If I was running for a championship and this race meant as
much as any other race did and it was essential to my making the
final top 10 in points, I would say no,'' Roush told them.

They heeded his suggestion.

Miscellaneous
Todd Bodine picked up a sponsor the next eight
races from Carter's Royal Dispos-all, a scrap metal and transfer
station from Toccoa, Ga. "It's something we needed,'' Bodine said.
"Hopefully, it'll work out for the two of us.'' ... Robbie Loomis,
Gordon's crew chief, missed practice and qualifying to attend to
his mother, who is ill. He is expected back for practice Saturday.
... Sterling Marlin was a presenter at the Country Music
Association awards show Wednesday night in Las Vegas. "We flew out
there and then right back,'' he said. "Didn't get back until about
4 o'clock this morning.''