© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2002
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Jeff Gordon, winless in 31 straight races, took the first step toward ending his drought Friday by winning the pole for the Sharpie 500.
Gordon ran a lap in the No. 24 Chevrolet around Bristol Motor Speedway at 124.034 mph to earn the top starting spot for tonight's Winston Cup race.
"Awesome!" he yelled after the lap. "Man does that feel good."
It certainly lifted his spirits. He joked and laughed when he went to the media center, and poked fun at himself over how long it had been since his last visit.
"So this is what it looks like in here," he said when he walked in.
In reality, it hadn't been that long for Gordon, the four-time and defending Winston Cup champion. He won two other poles this season, one here in the spring and another at Martinsville Speedway -- meaning all three of his best efforts came on short tracks.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified second with a lap at 123.937. Michael Waltrip qualified third in a Chevy, the second straight race the two Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammates have had strong qualifying runs. Earnhardt and Waltrip qualified first and second last weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
FOOD CITY 250: The last time Jimmy Spencer raced at Bristol, he was bumped back to second place.
There was no tapping on his return trip -- no one could get close enough to him to even try -- as Spencer easily won the Busch Grand National race.
Instead, Spencer had to slow to avoid the spinning car of Tim Sauter with two laps to go. That gave Scott Wimmer enough space to close the gap on Spencer's lead, but Spencer held off the challenge to win his first Busch race of the season and 12th of his career.
It was his second career win on Bristol's .533-mile concrete oval.
"I won at Bristol again, I am so excited!" Spencer shouted. "I love this racetrack, I feel like this is a special place for me."
GATEWAY 250: Four drivers have a realistic shot at winning the IRL championship with three races to go, including Sunday's in Madison, Ill.
Sam Hornish Jr., the defending champion, leads with 399 points. Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves has 395, Gil de Ferran 386 and Felipe Giaffone 382.
A victory is worth 50 points, second place 40 and third 35.
"It's going to be very close and it's just a matter of whoever gets the best car for the last three weeks and is the luckiest," Giaffone said.
"It's very wide open and it's all up to each of us."
He earned his first career victory Aug. 11 in the Belterra Casino 300 at Kentucky Speedway, holding off Hornish by 0.0932 seconds. De Ferran finished 21st to drop from first in the standings.
The 200-lap race on the 1.25-mile oval at Gateway International Speedway, near St. Louis, is Sunday. Qualifying is today.
MONTREAL INDY: Cristiano da Matta guaranteed himself another front-row start by winning the provisional pole for the inaugural event.
The Brazilian earned another standings point and leads Patrick Carpentier and Bruno Junqueira by 43 points. He can add one more in final CART qualifying today.
"When the car is working good, it's a lot less complicated from the inside," said da Matta, who has six poles and six victories in 12 races this season. "For a new track, there's not a whole lot of things we had to do to get (the car) decent. The team did a lot of guessing and did it right."
His Newman-Haas Lola-Toyota got around the 2.709-mile, 14-turn Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Notre Dame Island in 1 minute, 19.465 seconds, which translates to 122.279 mph.