By JOANNE KORTH
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 5, 2001
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jimmy Spencer will have an unusual view to start today's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The only thing in front of his No. 26 Ford will be the pace car.
Spencer won the pole, his second in 355 career races, with a lap of 50.093 seconds, 179.666 mph, on the flat, 2.5-mile track.
"I never get the opportunity to start that far up," said Spencer, whose other pole came at North Wilkesboro in 1994. "I think winning poles is neat. I've never been known to do it."
NASCAR's latest rule change, which allowed Dodge to extend its front air dam 2 inches, paid instant dividends. Bill Elliott's No. 9 was second (179.565) and teammate Casey Atwood's No. 19 a career-best third (179.361).
"Imagine that," said championship contender Dale Jarrett, who starts sixth. "Are you surprised? And I don't think we've seen everything they've got yet."
Points leader Jeff Gordon starts 27th; second-place Ricky Rudd is fourth.
Spencer's pole marks his first start better than 20th in eight Brickyard 400s, though it is his seventh top-10 start of the season and third in the past four races.
"This is a racetrack where you can't get too aggressive, but you have to drive on the edge," said Spencer, who picked up the nickname Mr. Excitement for his tendency to find trouble. "I love driving on the edge. That doesn't scare me."
No, but Jay Leno might.
The Tonight Show star and automobile aficionado will drive the pace car during warmup laps. And if Spencer gets too close, Leno said he just might turn the tables.
"Maybe I'll slam on the breaks," Leno said, "scare the hell out of him for a change."
NOT IN THE BLUEPRINTS: Ryan Newman, who won the pole in May at Charlotte, qualified fifth despite smacking the wall exiting Turn 4 in the No. 02 Ford owned by Roger Penske.
"It definitely slowed me down because it wrinkled the car up pretty good," Newman said. "I guess when they built this speedway in 1909 they didn't think about aero-push."
PRECIOUS POSITIONS: Among the season-high 54 drivers who attempted to qualify, Rich Bickle sneaked into the field at 17th with a speed of 176.762.
RACING TRIM: With cars set up for race conditions, Steve Park's No. 1 Chevrolet was fastest in Saturday's final practice session. Park turned a lap at 170.736 mph during a run of 31 laps. Next on the chart: Tony Stewart (170.471), Spencer (170.322), Newman (170.280) and Jeff Burton (170.145).
HE HAD TO BE A BIG SHOT: Gordon, who recently taped a celebrity episode of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, should have known better than to call a motorsports writer for a pop music question.
Playing for $125,000, Gordon used Charlotte Observer reporter David Poole as his phone-a-friend option, but Poole was unable to come up with Billy Joel's name. Said Poole: "I told him not to call me on music."
The episode airs Sept. 10 on Ch. 28.