The fire still burns in Jeff Gordon, despite trailing badly in the Winston Cup driver standings. And for one lap yesterday, his familiar No. 24 car ran as it's supposed to.
Gordon won the pole for Sunday's Kmart 400, his fourth pole of the season, pushing his Chevrolet around Michigan Speedway in a one-lap speed of 186.945 mph. In the process, he shattered his own track record of 186.611 mph set in June 1995.
"It was faster than I thought we were going to go at that time of the day," said Gordon, who won the Winston Cup drivers championship in 1995, 1997 and 1998. "Actually, we ran a 38.60 [seconds] at practice and we saw a few guys picking up."
Gordon also won poles at Daytona, Darlington and Richmond this season. He has won three times this season -- the Daytona 500, the Cracker Barrel 500 in Atlanta, and the California 500. This is the 27th time in his career Gordon has earned the inside spot on the first row, and the second time at Michigan, where he won from the pole last August.
Ernie Irvan, who won the June race at Michigan in 1997, qualified at 186.712 mph in a Pontiac for the right to line up next to Gordon in Row 1. Defending champion Mark Martin, a four-time winner at this banked two-mile oval, was third in qualifying at 186.567 mph in a Ford.
It was a major turnaround for Gordon, who is sixth in the series standings and 339 points behind leader Dale Jarrett. "It's definitely been a trying year for us a bit," Gordon said. "We've had a lot of success over the past few years and when you have that type of success you want to live up to those expectations and there's a lot of pressure on you to live up to those expectations."
IROC: A family affair proved to be a dream come true for Dale Earnhardt. It was pretty special for his son, Dale Jr., too. The elder Earnhardt won his third straight IROC Race of Champions, bumping his way through the final turn to win by .007 seconds at Michigan Speedway.
"That was a unique deal," said Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion who has won 10 career IROC races. "That was something you hope for. To race Mark Martin for points and have your kid right up there with you most of the way was pretty special."
Earnhardt, who averaged 162.235 mph, leads the standings with 68 points. Martin, who was bidding for his fourth consecutive title, is next with 48. With one race remaining -- at the Brickyard in July -- Earnhardt has a chance to become the only driver in the 23-year history of the series to win all four races in a season.
IRL: Mark Dismore will hold the pole position for today's Longhorn 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth thanks to his qualifying speed of 215.272 mph. Dismore was forced to use a backup car to narrowly beat out Scott Sharp, his Kelly Racing teammate, for the top spot.
FORMULA ONE: Even with a final lap miscue, Eddie Irvine still beat out Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher and led both practice sessions for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.
Irvine's time of 1 minute 20.576 seconds was .700 seconds quicker than the 1:20.664 by McLaren-Mercedes driver David Coulthard of Scotland.