In this Dale Jarrett-dominated, what's-happened-to-Jeff Gordon Winston Cup season, the front row for today's Frontier at the Glen is a breath of fresh air.
Rusty Wallace is on the pole because he didn't let the newly poured concrete strips in the turns at Watkins Glen International psyche him out as it did other drivers.
Boris Said, who drives road courses and in trucks, is on the outside pole because quirky things, like an outsider crashing the party, happen occasionally in stock car racing.
Jarrett, who has a commanding 274-point lead on Mark Martin, starts ninth. Gordon, who is 507 points behind Jarrett but who has won the last four Cup road races, starts third.
But the front row pairing of Wallace and Said typifies this peculiar weekend at the Glen: Saturday morning's second-round qualifying was washed out by rain and an afternoon practice was canceled after thick fog enveloped the area.
Similar weather conditions this afternoon would be a problem. The Cup cars have rain tires but not fog lights.
That could spoil an otherwise wonderful birthday weekend for Wallace, who turned 43 Saturday. He won this race in 1987 and 1989. He finished fourth last year after taking the lead with 10 laps to go in the 220.5-mile race.
Friday, however, he broke the track record with a qualifying lap of 121.234 mph to take the pole.
He said he was concerned about the track after hearing other drivers worrying about the concrete strips Watkins Glen added in the corners because the asphalt was breaking up. Then he remembered he likes concrete.
"Everybody has been talking about the concrete and I was a little spooked by it," Wallace said, "but it's got a lot of grip out there. I love it. It reminds me of Bristol and Dover. And I kind of like those ol' race tracks. I love concrete. You hit the concrete here and you get more grip, and I like it a lot."
Said, driving the No. 14 Ford co-owned by Ernie Irvan (who starts 36th in the No. 36 Pontiac) is thrilled to be in the race.
"Second to those guys might not mean much, but to be a rookie team with a rookie driver it sure means a lot," Said said. "But I do have a lot of experience here. My driving style is to go wide open into every turn and I had to restrain myself (Friday) to get one good lap.
"All kinds of people have come up to me and said "you're a road racer, you'll kick their butt.' " he said. "And I'm like, these guys are all great road racers. I don't think that I have an advantage. I just don't have a disadvantage like I do on an oval."
BALDWIN STAYS PUT: Tommy Baldwin Jr. has signed a three-year contract extension to remain as crew chief with Bill Davis Racing and the No. 22 Pontiacs driven by Ward Burton.
Baldwin had discussions in recent weeks with Ray Evernham, crew chief for Jeff Godron's No. 24 Chevrolet, about a possible job opening with that team.
"We've got a good bunch of guys here with Bill Davis," Baldwin said. "I think right now we've made a statement that Bill Davis is a good operation that's here to go racing and hopefully win some races."
MILLER LITE 200: Dario Franchitti was the beneficiary of a steady drizzle that kept most drivers off the track for the final qualifying round of the CART event at Lexington, Ohio.
That meant the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course record of 124.394 mph Franchitti set Friday held up, giving the Scotsman and Team Kool Green their first pole position of the year.
This is the 10th straight year the CART qualifying mark at Mid-Ohio has been broken and the second year in a row that Franchitti has been on the pole for the race. Bryan Herta, who qualified his Reynard-Ford Cosworth second at 123.493, will share the front row with Franchitti and may be fighting for both a victory and a job. Herta and team owner Bobby Rahal acknowledged this weekend that they have agreed to explore other options for next season.
HUNGARIAN GP: Mika Hakkinen won the pole position for today's Formula One race at Budapest and championship leader Eddie Irvine earned the starting spot he would have rather avoided: the outside lane on the front row.
By sharing the front row, the two contenders for the championship set the stage for a possibly spectacular showdown in the all-important start of the race.
The 2.468-mile Hungaroring is a tight, twisty track that offers few opportunities for overtaking and getting into a good position at the start can be decisive for the 77-lap race.
The outside lane is particularly tricky on the notoriously dusty track littered with pebbles.