If qualifying results are any criteria, the new four-door Winston Cup Ford Taurus has adapted itself quite nicely to the new Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile track.
Dale Jarrett, fighting a biting cold wind that swept down from the snow-tipped mountains Friday, won the pole for Sunday’s inaugural Las Vegas 400 with a lap of 168.224 mph in one of Robert Yates’ Fords. Fords took five of the first seven positions.
Only Ward Burton, who was third in a Pontiac, and Jeff Gordon, fifth in a Chevrolet, could penetrate the Ford parade of Jarrett, Geoff Bodine, Bill Elliott, Rick Mast and Mark Martin in the top seven spots.
“That’s scary to think I could go around here that fast,” Jarrett said after conquering the relatively flat tri-oval with its 12-degree banked turns and nine-degree front stretch.
“I had no idea it was that fast, but that was a lot. I enjoy the flatter tracks. We’ve had a few weeks to work with the Taurus, and we’re making it awfully good. And we were fortunate to go out late, when the track surface had cooled.”
Bodine, who ran 167.411 early in the day, remained No. 1 until Jarrett went out about an hour later to knock him off the pole.
“Geoff must be wondering what it is about me,” Jarrett said with a smile. “At Daytona, I ran into him in the pits and knocked both of us out, and here I knock him off the pole. Two Fords on the front row will look good, but it doesn’t necessary mean we’ll win the race.
“Fords looked awful good [last Sunday] at Rockingham, too, but they haven’t won a race yet, except the Bud Shootout and that doesn’t count.”
Of the 25 cars which qualified Friday, 16 were Fords, compared with four Chevrolet Monte Carlos and five Pontiac Grand Prix.
Among those who failed to make the field on the first day were such Chevrolet heavyweights as Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Ken Schrader and Mike Skinner, Earnhardt’s teammate. They will get a second chance today, or they can elect to stick with their times to get in the 43-car starting lineup.
Earnhardt said he would stick with his 164.860 mph, which is 26th: “I don’t see any reason trying to do something I can’t do [qualify faster], so we’ll just get ready for the race.”
Earnhardt won at Daytona and Gordon won at Rockingham, although the next six finishers after Gordon were Fords.
“I’m really happy with my lap,” said Gordon of his 166.605-mph effort. “We’re the best Chevrolet and starting fifth gets us toward the front. That will be a big advantage because this is a fast track and there will be a lot of drafting.”
Martin qualified on the pole for today’s Busch Grand National race, the Sam’s Town Las Vegas 300, with a lap of 162.577 mph in a Ford.
“That was a big surprise,” said Martin, who has won 32 Busch races as a sideline to his Winston Cup career. “This was the car we ran at Rockingham and I wasn’t overly impressed with it. We qualified 17th and finished third, but we didn’t have any other cars quite ready to run, so we had to bring this one out. I’m glad we did now.”