Knowing anything short of a dominant second half of the season will preclude another Winston Cup championship, Jeff Gordon has taken his first positive step in that direction.

He extended his series lead in poles with his sixth, taking the inside of the front row for the Jiffy Lube 300 in qualifying yesterday at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, N.H. A victory Sunday--and Gordon needs plenty of those in the final 17 races--would be his fifth this season.

But even a second-half run at his record-tying 13 victories of 1998 probably won't be enough to give him another piece of NASCAR history. The two-time defending champion, a distant fifth to points leader Dale Jarrett, is trying to match Cale Yarborough's record of three straight titles.

"Unless something happens to Jarrett, I don't think anybody's going to catch him," Gordon said after breaking the track record in a Chevrolet.

Gordon didn't know what was in store for him until he ran the lap at 131.171 mph.

"I saw what was happening in practice, and I was scratching my head," he said after touring the 1.058-mile oval in 29.037 seconds. "I was not expecting to run that kind of a lap."

The driver who should present the biggest challenge to Gordon, Jeff Burton, failed to make the top 25. His Ford went only 127.885, ranking 39th, and he'll have to qualify today, when 18 more cars will be added.

Jarrett, winner of the Pepsi 400 last weekend in Daytona Beach, Fla., qualified ninth in a Ford at 130.135.

CART: At 36, Michael Andretti feels a little strange being called an old master.

But, compared to Juan Montoya, Andretti, a former series champion and the winningest active driver in the series, is a graybeard.

"I guess I do feel my age some days," Andretti said with a laugh after outdueling Montoya, 23, in provisional qualifying for the Texaco-Havoline 200 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. "These young guys come into the series with no fear."

It didn't appear that Andretti was feeling much pressure as he got around the four-mile, 14-turn road course in 1 minute 41.354 seconds, an average speed of 143.781 mph.

That was quick enough to keep Montoya, the series points leader, in second place with a lap at 143.374.

Craftsman Trucks: Finally healthy after missing five races because of injuries, Tim Steele set a Nashville Speedway record to win the pole position for today's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Federated Auto Parts 250.

Steele lapped the .596-mile oval at 111.079 mph. He edged Stacy Compton, who was timed at 110.987.

Krogh Improves: Jeff Krogh remained in critical but stable condition from injuries received when he crashed last weekend while practicing for a race at the Milwaukee Mile.

Krogh, a third-year NASCAR Busch Series driver, was brought to Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Milwaukee unconscious last Saturday. He is now semi-conscious and responding to voices and pain, track officials said.