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Mayfield takes pole

All the big names took a shot at Jeff Gordon, but it was little-known Jeremy Mayfield who was able to push the Winston Cup's top qualifier off the pole for Sunday's DieHard 500.

The 27-year-old Mayfield, whose best qualifying effort was third in April on the same Talladega Superspeedway oval, was the only one of 44 qualifiers Friday to break the 50-second barrier on the 2.66-mile track.

He turned a lap in 49.779 seconds, translating to 192.370 mph, which was easily fast enough to relegate Gordon's 191.417 to the outside of the front row for the 500-mile event.

"I'm in awe right now. For once, everything went our way," said Mayfield, who gave longtime NASCAR star Cale Yarborough only his second pole as a car owner. The first was by Dick Trickle in 1990.

Gordon, 24, who owns 14 career poles and leads everyone with four this season, set the target as the second driver in line. Nobody was able to come close to his Chevrolet Monte Carlo until Mayfield, whose Ford Thunderbird was 35th in line.

"It really wasn't fair to him," Mayfield said. "He had a hot time to qualify and mine cooled off 10 to 15 degrees. Then a cloud came over and made it even better. It paid off for us."

Every other driver, except Joe Nemechek who crashed on his second qualifying lap, got faster the second time around NASCAR's fastest track. But Mayfield shut off the engine and coasted in after his first lap.

MARLBORO 500: The last time Jimmy Vasser came to Michigan International Speedway, he was filled with visions of greatness. Now, all he can see is Al Unser Jr. in his rearview mirror.

As a result, Vasser needs a strong performance Sunday in the Marlboro 500 in order to maintain his slim lead in the PPG Cup standings, the symbol of superiority in IndyCar racing.

In today's qualifying, Vasser will attempt to better the 232.025 mph he averaged in winning the pole for the inaugural U.S. 500 this spring. The track qualifying record is held by Mario Andretti, who averaged 234.275 mph while winning the pole for the 1993 Marlboro 500.

Vasser is the PPG Cup leader with 107 points, eight ahead of second-place Unser Jr. Both drivers, however, have recorded some of their finest days on the high-banked, 2-mile oval at MIS.

Vasser had the fifth-fastest practice lap Friday, 234.287 mph.

"The car's pretty good, but not perfect," Vasser said. "But we'll be okay for qualifying and for Sunday's race."

Brazilian Andre Ribeiro, Italian Alex Zanardi, Canadian Paul Tracy and Unser Jr. were all faster. Ribeiro had a lap of 235.714 mph, Zanardi 235.329, Tracy 234.634 and Little Al 234.418. Ribeiro, Zanardi and Vasser had Honda engines; Tracy and Unser Jr., both Marlboro-Penske teammates, had Mercedes engines.

GERMAN GRAND PRIX: Gerhard Berger had a right to feel good about posting the fastest time as Formula One practice began in Hockenheim, Germany.

The Austrian had a fast lap of 143.8 mph, covering 4.2 miles in 1 minute, 46.145 seconds in a Benetton-Renault.

David Coulthard of Britain was second fastest in a McLaren-Mercedes, with a speed of 143.7 off a clocking just .039 seconds more than that of Berger.

Qualifying is today, with the race set for Sunday.