Wallace, 'Snake' strike at Dover Record claims pole; Gordon second fastest


DOVER, Del. -- Rusty Wallace and "The Snake" chased history yesterday afternoon at Dover Downs International Speedway -- and passed it.

"The Snake" is Wallace's Miller Lite Ford, and the two of them raced faster around this one-mile concrete oval than anyone before.

Faster than other Winston Cup cars and even faster than Bobby Unser drove his Indy car here 29 years ago.

"Wow, I knew I was fast," Wallace said. "But I didn't know I was that fast."

Wallace claimed the pole for tomorrow's MBNA Platinum 400 with a run of 155.898 mph. That performance broke Bobby Labonte's track-qualifying record for stock cars (155.086 set September 13, 1996), and Unser's mark for Indy cars set in 1969 at 155.229.

It was a day for records at Dover.

During Busch qualifying earlier in the day, 12 drivers broke the Grand National qualifying record for today's MBNA Platinum 200. Driver Kevin Lepage was quickest with a pole speed of 151.688 mph in his ChannelLock Chevrolet. Fellow Chevy driver Matt Kenseth will start beside him, having run 151.630 mph.

In the Winston Cup race tomorrow, Wallace will have familiar company on the outside pole.

Winston Cup series point leader Jeff Gordon put his Chevrolet on the outside with the second-fastest time of 155.039 mph.

"That was a good lap," said Gordon, who is coming off a win at the Coca-Cola 600. "I got 100 percent out of [the car] on that lap, but it was a little bit tight. I thought some guys could beat that time, but we were still pretty proud of that lap.

"I think it's really tough to back up the times we saw in practice."

Wallace, who was fastest in practice, had no trouble reproducing his practice times and bettering them.

"I love running concrete race tracks," Wallace said. "A lot of people don't like 'em, but I do. And this car, 'The Snake', man, that thing really really runs good and handles good.

"You know, I tore this car all to heck at Bristol, but the guys did a great job repairing it and she's right back, as good or better than she's ever been. And that's great because this is a car that I really like."

He took "The Snake" out late to qualify, 41st among 48 cars, but he figured it would pay, that the track would cool off.

But on this hot, sunny day, the track just got hotter. But because of the concrete surface, which is consistent, and because Goodyear brought a new, stickier compound here, Wallace had no trouble.

"I drove deeper into the corners here than I ever have," he said, grinning. "I drove it to where it felt like the body was coming off, and it just kept digging.

"It was a smooth lap. I got through turns one and two good and I said, 'I've just got one more corner to make and I did the same thing. I just hung it out there a little bit -- you've got to be on the edge to run fast -- and I was able to stay in with the throttle wide open. The new tire seems to be really good."

Wallace has had quite a season so far, despite not having won a points race. He won the Bud Shoot-out, the all-star race for the previous season pole winners at Daytona last February, and then ran off six straight top-five finishes to take the points lead.

That lasted until he had an engine problem three weeks ago in California and finished 34th. He is currently third, 31 points behind Gordon.

"It seems like I've been second, second, second," said Wallace, who was second last week. "I want to win. I always want to win. I want to lead the points. I want to stink up the whole deal.

"And I've been leading. I've led more laps than anyone else all season. I'm the lap leader. But I haven't won. I want to win."

Maybe tomorrow.

NOTE: Tragedy struck here late Thursday night when one fan died and four were seriously injured when fans attempted to raise a racing flag on a 29-foot metal flag pole attached to a trailer hitch.

Police said it is unclear whether the pole actually touched power lines, but a jolt of electricity caused a propane tank on one of the trailers to explode.

All five victims were burned. Dead is John Pease, 32, of Bloxom, Va. In critical condition is Joe Mensacks, 41, of Salisbury, Md., and Eugene Everitt, 34, of Shermonsdale, Pa. Diane Everitt, 34, also of Shermonsdale, is in serious condition. Jeff Piccard, 39, of Chincoteague, Va., is stable.

Dover Downs officials released a statement saying: "We are very saddened by the accident and our hearts go out to the families of the victims. We are attempting to contact them and offer whatever assistance is necessary."

Race facts

What: NASCAR MBNA Platinum 400

Where: Dover Downs International Speedway, Dover, Del.

When: Tomorrow, noon


Pole-sitter: Rusty Wallace, 155.898 mph

.' Defending champion: Ricky Rudd

Pub Date: 5/30/98

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