Jeremy Mayfield won the pole in qualifying Friday at Dover International Speedway, putting behind him a wreck that seriously damaged his championship hopes in the Nextel Cup series.
Mayfield crashed last Sunday at New Hampshire after Robby Gordon intentionally spun Greg Biffle. A finish of 35th left Mayfield 142 points behind co-leaders Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. after the first of 10 races among the top 10 championship contenders.
But Mayfield won't curse his bad luck.
"We kind of like being the underdog," he said. "We're going to fight it out to the end."
On Sunday, he won't qualify as anything but the favorite in the MBNA 400 after taking the pole with ease. He got around the Monster Mile at 159.405 mph, giving him a qualifying sweep this year on the high-banked concrete oval.
"Any time you have a race track you run pretty good at you're confident," he said. "Now we've just got to go out and win the race and get back the points that were taken away from us last week."
Mayfield said a top starting spot on a narrow and treacherous track such as Dover is extremely valuable.
"Hopefully, that's going to keep us out of trouble," he said. "You have a better shot to stay out of a wreck."
Mayfield said the leadership of car owner Ray Evernham and the motivation of the team help him stay confident.
"If we were going to quit we could have done that before Richmond," he said.
Mayfield got his only victory of the season there two weeks ago, and that got him into the top 10.
Busch, who won the Sylvania 300, qualified 13th on Friday. Earnhardt wound up 16th on the 43-car grid.
"I was happy with the first lap, but on the second we got pretty loose," Earnhardt said. "Sometimes it's like running across railroad tracks."
Ryan Newman, also unlucky in New Hampshire, where he blew an engine late in the race, was second-fastest. His Dodge got around the track at 159.018.
Newman, who fell 136 points off the pace, is not concerned about his engine.
"We realize what happened, and we fixed the thing," he said.
A surprising third in qualifying was rookie Brian Vickers. He did it in a backup car after crashing in practice. His Chevrolet went 158.346.
"We didn't get it back to where the first one was, but we got it close," he said. "When I saw the guys working as hard as they were I saw this coming.
"I was just hoping for a solid starting spot. But we wound up with a great starting spot."
Elliott Sadler, sixth in the points race, was fourth-fastest in a Ford at 158.249.
Michael Waltrip and former series champions Bobby Labonte and Rusty Wallace held down the next three sports. Reigning series champion and top-10 racer Matt Kenseth was next.
* CHAMP CAR: Patrick Carpentier, coming off his first victory of the season, won his first pole of the year with a 206.186 mph run in the series' first outing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"We tweaked it a little bit this morning. We thought we needed more speed," he said.
The point he received for the pole moved him into a tie for fourth in the series standings with Paul Tracy, who qualified 11th.
Jimmy Vasser made it an all-Las Vegas front row with a speed of 205.495 mph, followed by series points leader Sebastien Bourdais at 205.323.
Vasser, who is 11th in the standings with three races to go, said he was pleased that the run came together well for his team. He said tonight's race would be an unusual challenge for drivers more accustomed to racing on streets and road courses.
"You're going to have to keep your foot down all race long," he said.