Qualifying for the Brickyard 400 was delayed six hours because of a persistent drizzle Thursday, but once it started, Ernie Irvan gave other Winston Cup drivers something to shoot at, running a record 179.394 mph in his Pontiac as the first car out.
No one else came close, although four others--Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, rookie Kenny Irwin and Jeff Green--also bettered Irvan’s year-old track record of 177.736 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2 1/2-mile track.
“I don’t know how I could have gotten a better lap,” said Irvan, who won $10,500 and a $12,000 motorcycle for his lap. “We did everything we could. I know that the Pontiacs can run with the Fords in qualifying. When we get this Pontiac ready to race, we’ll find out if it can stack up for 400 miles.”
“That was an incredible lap Ernie put up there, especially being the first car out,” said Jarrett, who ran 178.596 in a Ford. Gordon, defending Winston Cup champion, did 178.324 as the fastest Chevrolet.
“We had a shot at the pole and we took our best shot at it and ended up third,” said Gordon, who received a huge ovation from a crowd of about 20,000 that had waited so long for something to happen. “What a great reception from the fans. That’ll get you emotional right there. I’m really happy to be back here in Indianapolis.”
Before moving to North Carolina to drive a Winston Cup car, Gordon lived in nearby Pittsboro, Ind.
Irvan became the 12th pole winner of the season and the pole was the 20th of his Winston Cup career.
Only the first 25 qualified for Saturday’s race. Other positions will be determined today. Among those still looking to make the field are defending champion Ricky Rudd and seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.
Also today, the International Race of Champions will be run here for the first time, although it is the fourth and last of the 1998 IROC season.
In the IROC, Winston Cup driver Mark Martin will try for his fourth championship in the last five years. He leads fellow stock car driver Jeff Burton in points, 62-54.
Martin, who won in 1994, 1996 and 1997, must start today’s 100-mile race from the rear of the field. There is no qualifying in IROC, where drivers start in inverse order of the standings.
“I think IROC being at Indianapolis is just awesome,” Martin said. “What a great combination, a great racing series, with some of the world’s greatest drivers, racing at one of the greatest racetracks in the world.”
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THIS WEEKEND AT INDY
* What: True Value Firebird International Race of Champions, final round of four-race series.
* When: 10:30 a.m. PDT.
* Distance: 100 miles (40 laps).
* Purse: $760,000, including $225,000 to series champion.
* Cars: Identical Pontiac Firebirds.
* Field: 12 drivers chosen from stock car, Indy car, champ car and sports car racing series.
* Defending champion: Mark Martin.
* TV: (tape) Ch. 7, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
* What: Brickyard 400, race 19 of 33-race Winston Cup series.
* When: 10 a.m. PDT.
* Distance: 400 miles (160 laps).
* Purse: $5,385,081.
* Field: 43 American-built stock cars, all Fords, Chevrolets or Pontiacs.
* Defending champion: Ricky Rudd.
* TV: Channel 7, 10 a.m.