The second round of qualifying for any Winston Cup race is generally an unimportant session that decides where drivers with no hope for victory will start.
But that wasn’t the case Friday, when such NASCAR stars as Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and defending series champion Terry Labonte made the field for the Brickyard 400.
All told, 12 drivers with a composite 90 career victories and three championships earned starting spots in the $4,965,000 race today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Wallace, with 47 career wins, continued to struggle with qualifying. For the second straight race, he couldn’t find enough speed and got in the field as a provisional starter.
This came as a result of his 1989 Winston Cup championship - expanding the starting grid to 43 cars.
“It’s been a real rough week for us, but we’re still working on it,” Wallace said. “We’ve got a long way to go tomorrow.”
Despite riding shotgun on the field, Wallace will concede nothing. He realizes a 400-mile race gives him time to move if things come together for him.
“You’ve got to be real patient,” Wallace said. “We’re trying to get our chassis straightened out. We’re working real hard trying to find the answers.”
He didn’t sound like a man who found enough of them in the final practice session.
Still, he maintained a champion’s profile, answering questions in the blazing sun outside his garage while signing autographs.
“We worked on the handling of the car, hoping to get it better,” Wallace said of the Miller Ford. “We got it a little better, but I’m not happy like I usually am.”
Among those failing to qualify were such fixtures as 1986 Daytona 500 winner Geoff Bodine and Dave Marcis, at 56 the oldest driver on the circuit.
The biggest surprises among the first-day failures were Martin, with 20 career victories for Roush Racing, and teammate Jeff Burton, a major player with two victories in what has been a breakthrough season.
Despite speeds nearly 2 mph slower than Ernie Irvan’s pole-winning 177.736, both stood on their times of Thursday. Martin’s Ford will start 31st, Burton’s 33rd.
Positions 26-38 were filled Friday, but some familiar names were not among those to make the field on speed. Also added as provisional starters were Jimmy Spencer, Kyle Petty, Ricky Craven and Brett Bodine.
The failure to make the field is just the latest problem to hit 18-time winner Geoff Bodine, whose stock has fallen dramatically in the last three seasons.
His planned announcement of the new financing and the pending sale of a portion of his ailing team has been postponed indefinitely.
The driver under perhaps the most pressure was Jeff Green, who came through with the best second-round qualifying run.
“We had to get in the show on speed because we didn’t have a provisional,” Green said after going 176.153 in his Chevrolet to wind up 26th on the grid.
Irvan’s Ford will be flanked by the Chevy of Joe Nemechek, who locked up his fourth front-row start in the last six events by touring the 2-1/2-mile oval on Thursday at 177.494.
Irvan teammate and defending Brickyard champion Dale Jarrett starts third, inside the shockingly fast Chevy of Darrell Waltrip, the three-time series champion who is winless since 1992.
The third row has the Richard Childress Chevys of seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt and top rookie Mike Skinner. Earnhardt is hoping to end a career-worst drought of 45 races without a victory.
Points leader Jeff Gordon, winner of the inaugural Brickyard in 1994, will go from the 24th position on the grid. His teammate, Labonte, will start 38th in a Chevy.
Kenny Irwin Jr., a USAC short-track star and the top rookie in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, was officially named the 1998 replacement for Brickyard 400 pole-sitter Ernie Irvan on the elite Robert Yates Racing team.
Irwin said he expects to drive as many as five races in a Yates car before the end of this season. He will run for rookie of the year in 1998.
xxxx ON TV The Brickyard 400 will be broadcast on a tape-delayed basis at 1 p.m. today on ABC.
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