By KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2001
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Two months after it swept the top three spots in the season-opening Daytona 500, Dodge did the same Friday at Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday's Talladega 500.
And it was the same three drivers who did it.
Stacy Compton, who started third at Daytona, won his first career Winston Cup pole with a 184.861 mph lap. It was the slowest pole lap in the track's 32 years.
"This is the first race my mom or my wife wasn't here for," Compton said. "So as soon as (qualifying was over), the pager started gong off. There was no doubt who it was. I figured I'd better make that call before I started taking pictures or I would have been in the doghouse."
Sterling Marlin and Bill Elliott were second and third.
"There's no advantage starting up front," Marlin said. "We started third at Daytona and looked up in the first 10 laps and guys that started 40th were up there beating and banging."
The Talladega 500 will be the first restrictor-plate event since the Daytona 500 in which there was a 19-car pileup and Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash.
It's also the third event for NASCAR's aerodynamic rules package, designed to slow cars and improve racing.
Memories of what happened in February and the prospect of another hair-raising wreck on Sunday have been a source of trepidation in the garage.
"The way I see it, you're going to come in here and hope and pray that nothing happens during the race," Elliott said.
WHAT IF: Elliott set the track qualifying record in 1987 when he went 212.809 mph with an unrestricted motor. Thirty-nine of 41 cars qualified at speeds better than 200 mph.
How fast could cars go today if the plates, which cut horsepower by reducing airflow to the carburetor, weren't required by NASCAR as they have been since 1988?
"I don't have any idea," Elliott said. "You might be running 220 mph with all the power we've got."
SPONSOR SEARCH: The track is without a sponsor for either of its Winston Cup races this season. Sears and Winston were title sponsors for its spring and fall races, respectively, for the past 13 years. "We certainly experienced some difficulties there," track president Grant Lynch said. "I think a lot of it has to do with the downturn in the economy."
Depending on the length of the contract, title sponsorships of a Winston Cup race can range from $700,000 to $2.5-million and often include suites, tickets, signage, corporate hospitality and advertising. That's budgeted money which, if lost, means a shortfall at the end of the year for the track.
Are sponsors willing to risk name and image after four driver deaths in less than one year?
"I think certainly with the recent events it may even be more in somebody's mind," Lynch said. "But I still think it's all about the sport and that doesn't really enter into it that much."
ODDS AND ENDS: Defending race winner Jeff Gordon qualified 13th. ... Two Pontiacs qualified in the top 35. Tony Stewart was seventh and defending Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte was 30th. ... Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett (sixth) was one of three Fords in the top 10. Ricky Craven was fourth and Mark Martin fifth. ... Kenny Wallace, Kyle Petty, Rick Mast, Hut Stricklin and Andy Hillenburg failed to qualify.