-- Elliott Sadler put up a fast lap early, then waited nervously as driver after driver came up short in qualifying for the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.
The result today was Sadler's first pole in 146 Winston Cup races.
"It was pretty exciting to wait through all those cars," said Sadler, the 16th of 43 drivers qualifying at Darlington Raceway's demanding 1.366-mile oval.
Sadler, in only his fifth race with Robert Yates Racing, was the man to beat all day, leading practice in his No. 38 Ford despite running only five laps. He then backed it up with a lap of 170.147 mph in qualifying.
The 27-year-old Sadler, one of NASCAR's vaunted "Young Guns," said a goal his new team set before the season was to win a pole.
"I was just a little surprised it came so soon," he said.
Sadler said he and crew chief Raymond Fox, who also got his first pole, "were a nervous wreck. We were sitting up in the truck and had the door slam locked and were nervous together."
Once Sadler reached the top, though, nobody was able to beat him.
Ryan Newman, who won the pole last week in Atlanta, came the closest at 169.374. The time difference between Sadler's Taurus and Newman's Dodge was 0.132 seconds.
"I just messed up the first lap getting into [Turns] 1 and 2 and didn't get the lap I wanted," said Newman, a 25-year-old driver and last year's leading pole winner with six. "I'm happy for Elliott, getting his first one, but our Dodge was capable of winning the pole."
It was Newman, 26th in the qualifying line, who made Sadler the most nervous.
"I didn't even want to hear his lap time," Sadler said, laughing. "I just waited for the crowd reaction to find out how he did."
One reason for Sadler's nerves was a history of coming close and being knocked off the pole numerous times. He said one time in particular stood out. "I got bit so bad by the bug at Texas," he said. "I was on the pole so long, and then Bill Elliott took it away from me. I never recovered from that instance."
All those near-misses came while Sadler drove the past four years for the Wood Brothers. He said former car owner Eddie Wood was the first person to congratulate him today.
"There's a lot of good young guys on this race team, and I'm just glad I could get this pole for them," Sadler said.
Jerry Nadeau was third in a Pontiac at 169.170, followed by the Dodge of Jimmy Spencer at 169.088 and the Chevrolet of six-time Darlington winner and four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon at 169.071.