J. Gordon sets mark for pole at Sonoma

Associated Press
Published June 25, 2005

SONOMA, Calif. - Jeff Gordon broke his qualifying record at Infineon Raceway to earn the pole Friday, and combined with teammate Jimmie Johnson to give Hendrick Motorsports the front row for Sunday's race.

Gordon, the last of 48 drivers to attempt a qualifying lap, raced around the twisting 1.99-mile road course at 94.325 mph, breaking the mark of 94.303 he set last year. It was his fifth pole at the course.

Gordon won from the pole last year.

Nextel Cup points leader Johnson, also driving a Chevrolet, took the second spot for the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at 94.165, followed by Mark Martin at 94.012, road course ace Boris Said at 93.975, and Robby Gordon at 93.885.

"This is definitely a place we enjoy coming to," Jeff Gordon said. "We know we need to turn things around, but you want to come in here and concentrate on the race. I do feel pressure, though."

The four-time series champion and four-time Sonoma winner has finished 30th or worse in four of his past five races, including 32nd last week at Michigan. He's 12th in the series standings.

Johnson, never a winner on a road course in Cup competition, told himself: "Don't let this track play games with you."

Martin, who won from the pole here in 1997, figured Gordon would beat him.

"The reason I'm having fun is because my car's running so good," Martin said.

Rounding out the top 10 for Sunday's race are series champion Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Terry Labonte, Scott Pruett and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Martin and Rusty Wallace - two past winners at Infineon who are retiring from full-time Nextel Cup competition after this season - were honored as the first inductees on the track's wall of fame.

Black granite plaques etched with their images will be placed on the checkerboard-style wall. Wallace won at Infineon - then known as Sears Point - in 1990 and 1996 and Martin in '97.

INDYCAR: Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske its first sweep of the front row in the Indy Racing League this season, and its sixth since 2002. Hornish led the way as 12 drivers broke the track qualifying record for the open-wheel series at the 0.75-mile oval at Richmond International Raceway. Hornish posted a speed of 176.244 mph and sent his teammate to the outside of Row 1 for tonight's race.

The laps seemed to suggest a test by the teammates here a week earlier paid off, but Castroneves made his run with a deep muscle bruise in his left shoulder, a product of a late crash during that test session.

"So far it feels pretty good," he said, thanking doctors for providing him with a patch that helps manage the pain. "For the first few laps, it's kind of hurting but after a few laps, you forget about it."

Series leader and St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon lines up seventh for the SunTrust Indy Challenge, right behind Andretti Green teammates Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta.

Rookie Danica Patrick will start 21st in the 22-car field after qualifying at 164.707 mph, nearly 3 mph slower than the next-slowest speed recorded. She'll start in the last row next to defending series champion Tony Kanaan, who crashed during qualifying.

"The car was very loose, and it jumped out on me," Kanaan said of the Turn 2 spin that sent him backing into the wall, damaging his rear wing. "That's too bad, but we've been clean in qualifying for 21/2 years now, so I guess this was bound to happen sooner or later."

CHAMP CAR: Cristiano da Matta, who won his first series race in three years on Sunday, took the provisional pole at the Grand Prix of Cleveland, edging Paul Tracy by 0.004 seconds. With only two laps left da Matta ran a lap of 58.436 seconds around the 2.106-mile road course. Tracy had been fastest all day and may have topped da Matta if he hadn't clipped a tire barrier. Sebastien Bourdais, a Tampa resident and two-time defending champion, was fourth.