Veteran Mark Martin, making his international racing debut, overcame a wet track as he won the pole position for today's NASCAR Thunder Special Suzuka exhibition race.
The inclement weather gave drivers an opportunity to use rain tires for the first time in nearly 35 years in any NASCAR race.
"NASCAR last experimented races on wet courses in the early 1960s," director of operations Kevin Triplett said. "High speeds on oval tracks are not conducive to that type of tire. It only works well on road courses and NASCAR races few road courses."
Martin, a winner of 22 Winston Cup races, including four this season, ran the day's fastest lap of 1 minute, 2.279 seconds, circling the 1.4-mile track in a Ford at 80.60 mph.
"I think the rain helped me a lot, because I don't know where the line is, and since it is wet, it doesn't matter where you are," said Martin, who had never raced outside the United States in his 24-year career.
Finishing second was Jim Richards, whose best lap was completed in 1:02.605, averaging 80.18 mph in a Pontiac.
"It's a thrill for me to compete with guys like Rusty (Wallace) and Mark, whom we often watched on television in Australia," said Richards of Melbourne.
Wallace, the defending champion, was third with a best time of 1:03.126, traveling 79.52 mph.
Jeff Gordon, the Winston Cup champion, canceled his trip to Suzuka due to sickness. He had surgery on his vocal chords Tuesday in Charlotte.
The $569,500 event offers a top prize of $90,000.
The 125-lap, non-points exhibition is a second-year event in a three-year contract NASCAR has with the Japanese in promoting the race worldwide.
ANDRETTI BUSINESS: Texaco Inc. and Mario and Michael Andretti have joined to form Andretti Petroleum LLC, a gasoline distributorship in northern California.
Andretti Petroleum will be based in San Francisco and will sell products under the Texaco brand and the Andretti signature, the company said.
Terms of the agreement weren't disclosed.
Andretti Petroleum will continue the family's association with Texaco.
Mario Andretti is a spokesman for Texaco gasoline and lubricants while Michael Andretti is the chief driver for Texaco's Indy-car team.
Mario, who is retired from racing, won the 1969 Indianapolis 500. Michael, Mario's son, won the Indy-car championship in 1991.
"The Andrettis are proud to build on our association with Texaco," Mario Andretti said in a statement. "We will be a pacesetter in the San Francisco market and intend to invest in and nurture the Texaco and Andretti brands by providing quality products, service and convenience."