While nearly everyone is watching the 10-man NASCAR Nextel Cup championship battle, Elliott Sadler is chasing an 11th-place finish that would pay his team a $1 million bonus and provide momentum for 2006.
Sadler got a leg up on the competition Friday by winning the pole for the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in the No. 38 Ford with a lap of 189.260 mph.
Sadler, who came up just 66 points short of making it into the playoff-style Chase for the Nextel Cup, is back up to 11th after finishing sixth Sunday in Dover. But only 137 points separate the Robert Yates Racing driver from teammate Dale Jarrett, 15th in the standings.
In between are Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray and four-time series champion and four-time Talladega winner Jeff Gordon.
"We're still frustrated not being in the top 10," Sadler said. "I think we're a good enough team to be in the Chase, but we're not going to hang our heads and cry about it. There's a lot of good race teams out there.
Finishing 11th "is very important to us, but our number one goal, and it's going to start Sunday, is to get some wins," added Sadler, whose last of three victories came last September at California Speedway.
It was Sadler's fifth career pole and third of the season, but his first since Kevin Buskirk became his crew chief in a shake-up two weeks ago that also included Jarrett's team.
"Kevin's done a great job," Sadler said. "He's been the man behind the scenes for the last two years. Everybody's been behind him the last two weeks and things are going really well."
Harvick qualified second for Sunday's race at 189.032 but was sent to the back of the 43-car field after his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet failed inspection.
NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said a post-qualifying inspection found "several violations in the trunk area of the car."
That moved Jarrett up to third at 188.776, followed by two of the contenders for the title, Ryan Newman at 188.596 and Tony Stewart at 188.570.
The rest of the championship contenders were spread throughout the field, with Greg Biffle eighth, series leader Jimmie Johnson ninth, Carl Edwards 10th, Matt Kenseth 11th, Kurt Busch 21st, Mark Martin 24th and Jeremy Mayfield 32nd.
Series runner-up Rusty Wallace, who blew an engine before finishing his first qualifying lap, will also start at the rear.
"We were sixth in practice and I really thought I had a legitimate shot at the pole," Wallace said. "But as soon as I fired it up and pulled out, I knew I was in trouble. The engine just welded itself shut."
While most drivers preach patience at Talladega, a track where the field is usually bunched up, Wallace said he will be aggressive.
Asked about strategy for Sunday, he said, "get your car handling really good, strike really quick and get it all up there. Don't mess around and hang out in the middle of the pack. I'm going to draft as hard as I can and try to get that thing up through there."
Stewart fell from first to fifth place in the points standings after finishing 18th last week and trails Johnson by 23 points. Stewart had been in first for the previous eight weeks.
"I don't feel like we're really in a catch-up mode," Stewart said. "We had our bad week and even with that, we're only 23 points behind. We could take the points lead back this weekend very easily."
Gordon, who has won three of the last four races here, will start 12th, while five-time Talladega winner and defending race champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 20th.