DOVER, Del. - Rusty Wallace doesn't take anything for granted anymore. But yesterday, after winning the pole for tomorrow's MBNA All-American Heroes 400, he couldn't help but feel pleased.
He hadn't won a NASCAR Winston Cup pole since Nov. 3, 2000 - 65 races ago. He hasn't won a race since April 29, 2001 - 53 races ago.
Now, he has a pole.
Tomorrow, he'd like to have a win.
"There's been a lot of second-place finishes this year, and a lot of close-but-no-cigars," he said, after putting his Miller Lite Ford in the No. 1 starting spot with a run of 156.822 mph. "There's a lot of tracks that we should've, could've and didn't, and it's been a long losing streak - longer than I've been accustomed to."
Dale Jarrett took the outside pole with a run of 156.767 in his UPS Ford and was delighted.
"A great lap," Jarrett said. "This is the same car we've won both our races with this year and it came off the truck fast. I'd like to go back and go through [turns] three and four again. I think that might be where I lost a little bit of time to Rusty. But he made a great lap. It was very close."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the fastest-qualifying Chevrolet, posting the third-fastest lap of 156.610, and rookie Ryan Newman, who won last week in New Hampshire, will start beside Earnhardt. Newman and his Ford circled Dover International Speedway's one-mile oval in 156.576.
The 43rd and last car to make the field was the World Berries Ford driven by Hideo Fukuyama of Japan. He made the race with a provisional after posting a qualifying lap of 153.074. He will be the first Asian to compete in a Winston Cup race.
Fukuyama did race in three exhibition races in Japan and two NASCAR Winston West races between 1996 and 1999.
Yesterday, he could not keep the smile from his face.
"I am very, very happy," he said through an interpreter. "I have been striving for 25 years in motor sports in Japan, but I really want to learn about NASCAR system and environment and I promised the late Mr. [Dale] Earnhardt that I would one day come and try to do this."
Mark Martin, who took over the lead in the Winston Cup points race last weekend, qualified 32nd.
"That was a big disappointment," he said. "We had a lot better car than that."
Wallace has had more than his share of disappointments since he last won a pole in Phoenix two years ago and last climbed out of his car in victory lane in California 17 months ago.
Losing is never easy, but for Wallace it's been almost mystifying. He won the 1989 Winston Cup championship, is ninth on the all-time win list with 54 victories, and is tied with Ricky Rudd for the modern era record (dating to 1972) for consecutive seasons with at least one victory (16).
Rudd saw his run end with a winless season in 1999. Now, with nine races left, Wallace's chance to claim the record for himself is running out.
"Not winning, it's bothered me a little bit," said Wallace, 46. "I probably put a little too much pressure on myself because of it. But I feel confident it's going to happen. We're just going to keep knocking on the door and give it our all until the last race.
"Whenever you can do something that's good, like winning the pole today, that always pumps up your team."
Wallace has won here three times in 37 races. A year ago, he started 15th and finished 11th.
NOTES: Kevin LePage won the pole for today's MBNA All-American Heroes 200 Busch Series race with a run of 155.757 mph. It was his second pole of the season. Maryland driver Dion Ciccarelli, in his Star Sales/Shamrocklero.com Ford, earned his way into the field with a lap of 150.144. He'll start in the 18th row in the 35th position.
Maryland's Donnie Neuenberger had bad luck. A part broke during qualifying for the Busch race and he did not make the field. But he did qualify the Maryland Terrapins Chevrolet 24th for yesterday's MBNA All-American Heroes 150 Busch North Series race. More misfortune struck in the 150, as Neuenberger hit the wall and was credited with 21 laps. He finished 27th. Matt Kobyluck in his Mohegan Sun Chevrolet won at an average speed of 116.181 mph.