FONTANA, Calif. - Jeremy Mayfield and Kasey Kahne need a good race weekend at California Speedway.
The Evernham Motorsports teammates, who are just outside the top 10 in the NASCAR Nextel Cup season points, got off to a good start Friday, qualifying second and fifth in the 43-car field for the Pop Secret 500.
Both are battling for spots in NASCAR's new Chase for the Nextel Cup with only two races remaining until the championship contenders are pared to the top 10 for the 10-race run to the finish.
The qualifying effort by Mayfield, tied for 12th in the standings, and Kahne, tied for 11th in the points, overshadowed the second career pole by 20-year-old Brian Vickers, who turned a lap of 187.417 mph. Also overshadowed was the strong showing by 48-year-old Bill Elliott, the semi-retired former series champion who qualified at 186.364 despite running in only his fifth race of the season and first since early last month at Indianapolis.
"The car was awesome," Vickers said. "The guys did a good job. It stuck. What else can I say?"
Elliott said he was surprised by his run.
"We changed everything but the driver after practice," he said. "I asked what we ran and, when they told me, I thought they were kidding."
Mayfield slipped in between the youngest and oldest drivers in the race with a lap of 186.364, with Kurt Busch right behind Elliott at 185.955 and Kahne next at 185.816.
Mayfield is excited about the battle for the top 10.
"It's pretty cool that it's coming down this close just for 10th," he said. "We could come down eighth or ninth this weekend. You never know any more what's going to happen and how the race is going to end up."
BUSCH: Casey Mears claimed his second series pole, taking the top qualifying spot for the Target House 300 at California Speedway in Fontana.
Mears, a Nextel Cup series regular making his fifth Busch start of the season, drove his Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge to a top lap of 182.890 mph, easily beating the 182.228 turned by series leader Martin Truex Jr. in a Chevrolet.
"It's fun to be on the pole," said Mears, who is from nearby Bakersfield. "We haven't had much go right here. . . . Hopefully, this is the start of some good things."
Kahne was third at 181.997, also in a Dodge, followed by the Chevys of series runnerup Kyle Busch (181.837), Lakeland's Joe Nemechek (181.196) and Kenny Wallace (181.182).
DREAM MATCHUP: A race fan's dream matchup: NASCAR's Jeff Gordon vs. Formula One's Michael Schumacher.
It will happen Dec. 4, with four-time series champion Gordon and seven-time champion Schumacher entered in the Race of Champions Nations Cup in Paris.
Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who combined to win the Nations Cup in 2002 when it was held in the Canary Islands, will take part in the all-star event along with more top drivers from F1 and the World Rally Championship.
They will race on a special figure-eight style dirt-and-paved track inside Stade de France, a 70,000-seat soccer stadium in Paris. The drivers will compete in single-seater formula cars, Ferrari sports cars and World Rally Championship cars.
MISCONSTRUED: Rusty Wallace wants to be clear on why he will retire after the 2005 season.
Wallace indicated during Monday's announcement that his decision was heavily influenced by the death of friend Dale Earnhardt in a crash during the 2001 Daytona 500 and by his own fear of being hurt.
"It got misconstrued a little bit," Wallace said "That didn't cause my decision to retire. It influenced it a little bit, (but) I want to retire at the top of my game."