Mast Earns Pole Position at Brickyard : Motor racing: Unheralded driver clocks 172.414 m.p.h. to grab the front-row spot in Brickyard 400.
It takes 23 days for the Indianapolis 500 to run its course from first practice to race day. NASCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are trying to compress the same amount of excitement into three days for the inaugural Brickyard 400.
On the day Winston Cup stock cars made their historic debut on the hallowed track where only Indy cars had raced for more than 80 years, unheralded Rick Mast earned the pole for Saturday’s $3-million race by edging six-time series champion Dale Earnhardt.
An even bigger surprise was the crowd for Thursday’s qualifying session.
Because of the unprecedented demand for tickets when the Brickyard 400 was first announced, Speedway officials had prepared for a qualifying-day crowd equally as large as the estimated 150,000 that were here last May for Indy 500 pole day. But only about half that number showed up for time trials that locked the fastest 20 cars into Saturday’s race.
Mast won the $50,000 pole prize for running 172.414 m.p.h. to Earnhardt’s 171.726, swift for the lumbering 3,800-pound stock cars, but not so fast for a track where speeds of 220 to 230 m.p.h. are common in May. Roberto Guerrero set the Indy record of 232.418 in 1993.
The last time an Indy car sat on the pole at a speed comparable to Mast’s was 1970, when Al Unser ran 170.221.
That race was also the last time a car with Goodyear tires had failed to win a pole at Indianapolis. Unser had Firestones, and it had been a Goodyear monopoly ever since until the lap by Mast, whose Ford had Hoosiers. Four of the 20 qualified cars were on Hoosiers in NASCAR’s latest tire war.
Geoff Brabham, LeMans 24 Hour winner and four-time IMSA sports car champion making his first start in a stock car, became the only non-Winston Cup driver to qualify when he put his Ford Thunderbird into 18th position with a 169.310-m.p.h. lap.
“The lap was beyond my wildest dreams,” Brabham said. “This was the first part of the job. The second part is to show these guys I can run with them in the race.”
Although this is Brabham’s first stock car race, he is a veteran of 10 Indy 500s. Brabham got the ride in the car owned by Michael Kranefuss and Carl Haas when Robby Gordon dropped out after driving it in Michigan last month.
A sudden downpour wiped out half of the day’s schedule, leaving a number of drivers short of practice time, but the track dried in time for 69 cars to make one-lap qualifying attempts.
“We had a new car today, and so far, with one lap, it works good,” Mast said. “I think a lot of guys had problems after practice. I think more rubber got put on this race track in three hours than in the last two centuries, or however long this track’s been here.
“What happened was, the track changed 360 degrees twice. It was real tight at first and then it got slicker and slicker and slicker. Then it rained and that (messed) the whole deal up. We all had to make a guess in the dark. I guess our guess was best.”
Some high-powered names didn’t guess right and are facing another qualifying session today to make the 44-car field. Among them are former Winston Cup champions Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte; Jimmy Spencer, winner of two recent races; series veterans Harry Gant and Kyle Petty, and two former Indy car winners, A.J. Foyt and Danny Sullivan.
Foyt said the slick track conditions “reminded me of back in the ‘60s with the old roadsters, the way they would slip and slide all over the place. It’s like the old champ cars. I think we’ll make the show OK.”
No Winston West driver was among the top 20, but Bakersfield’s Mike Chase, whose team leads in manufacturers’ points, will receive a provisional starting position even though he reached a speed of only 159.864 m.p.h.
Retired stock car driver Richard Petty noted another significant difference between Indy cars and the stockers.
“One NASCAR car going down the track makes more noise than an entire Indy car field,” he said.