DOVER, Del. -- Most NASCAR drivers don't expect to accomplish milestones in their careers on the infamous high-banked Monster Mile at Dover Downs International Speedway.
But Michael Waltrip won the first pole position of his seven-year career on the Winston Cup racing circuit yesterday, turning in the fastest qualifying lap, 143.392 mph, for tomorrow's Budweiser 500 at Dover Downs.
Waltrip, 28, will be driving a Pontiac Grand Prix (No. 30) from the No. 1 starting position at 12:15 p.m. in the 23rd running of the race.
"Qualifying's been my weak suit in the past," Waltrip said. "We've never qualified that well, but we've raced extremely well. Now our car's faster, and it's making qualifying better. That should just add to our racing package."
Waltrip may have raced well in seven years -- and he is eighth in this season's standings -- but he has yet to win a Winston Cup Series race. His best finish was second in the Miller High Life 500 in June 1988 at Pocono.
Now, with his first pole position tucked away, Waltrip said things could change quickly.
"After sitting on the pole, I feel even more confident about my chances of winning this race," said Waltrip, who says he's a bit amazed that it took him 160 tries to qualify for a Winston Cup pole position. "This is the same car we led over 200-and-something laps at Darlington in, and I came real close to getting my first win there. I'm fond of this car, and that will help out on Sunday."
Waltrip said he expected to qualify at least in the top five yesterday because "we were strong ever since we took the car off the trailer here."
Waltrip, younger brother of driver Darrell Waltrip, said he habecome increasingly aware this year of the importance of qualifying well.
"It helps so much because you don't have to mess with so mancars during the race in order to get up front," he said. "When you're in the lead, you don't have to worry about what's going on behind you."
So why did it take him 160 races to get a pole position?
"There's a lot of pressure to do well for one lap under the gree[flag]," said Waltrip. "Today we were able to do it. I did my part but, more importantly, the crew elected to change gears. They put a different rear-end gear in the car right before qualifying. And I'd venture to say we were only one of two or three cars to run on sticker [new] tires. Those two decisions, along with running a perfect lap, made it possible."
Rusty Wallace, the 1989 Winston Cup points champion, qualified for the No. 2 starting position with a lap of 142.789 mph.
Wallace, driving a Pontiac Grand Prix, said: "We had a pretty good run but we needed to be a little bit better. The lap was really smooth. I was a little loose coming off Turn 2, but other than that it was good."
Turn 2 proved to be the downfall for veteran driver Richard Petty yesterday.
Petty hit the wall coming out of Turn 2 and damaged the front end of his Pontiac Grand Prix, preventing him from finishing the qualifying lap.
Petty will get another chance today, as Round 2 of qualifying for positions 21-36 continues. The top 20 positions are set.
Dale Earnhardt, who leads the 1991 Winston Cup points race with 1,536, will start in the 10th position tomorrow in a GM Goodwrench Chevrolet (No. 3).
NOTES: Defending Budweiser 500 champion Derrike Cope (140.318 mph lap) didn't make the top 20 qualifying spots yesterday. . . . Dave Mader III won the pole for today's 2:15 p.m. Grand National Budweiser 200 at Dover Downs with a top qualifying lap of 142.518 mph.