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Elliott takes pole for Winston

If things continue going this well for Bill Elliott, next season won't get here soon enough.

Elliott, who will drive for Ray Evernham's Dodge team next year, followed a brainstorming session with Evernham's crew with a pole-winning run Friday for The Winston.

"I'm really impressed at how quick these guys have come together because I didn't expect it to happen so fast," Elliott said. "This is the best I've been at the racetrack in a very long time and my guys are really pumped up right now. One thing just feeds off the other."

Qualifying had required drivers to make three laps around Lowe's Motor Speedway, stopping once to change two tires. But this year the stop was made before the laps began.

Elliott capitalized for an average lap speed of 152.928 mph _ shattering the record Bobby Labonte set last year of 146.830.

Starting alongside him on the front row will be Mark Martin, who was over a second slower at 151.467

Eighteen drivers were guaranteed entry in tonight's Winston and the rest will compete today in the Winston Open for the remaining two spots.

Jerry Nadeau and Jimmy Spencer won 25-lap heat races for the Winston Open's starting order.

The Winston Open winner earns the 20th spot for The Winston. Anyone who finishes on the lead lap of the Winston Open can race in the 16-lap No Bull Sprint. That winner gets the final spot in The Winston.

INDIANAPOLIS 500: Greg Ray led the final hour of practice, turning in a lap of 223.948 mph, the fastest since practice began Saturday.

Other quick drivers: Jeff Ward and Scott Sharp, both at 222.949, Eliseo Salazar of Chile at 222.921 and Robby Gordon at 222.901.

Qualifying begins today with the order determined in a blind draw.

Sarah Fisher, 19, makes her bid to become the youngest woman, and third-youngest driver, to make the field. Her fastest lap for the day was 221.219.

If Lyn St. James, 53, makes the race, then the oldest and youngest drivers in this field will be women, another Indy 500 first. St. James ran a 219.973 lap for the day.

"Well, as far as Lyn goes, I think, yes, she helped kick the door open, but I want to blow it open," Fisher said. "I want to win and I think that's maybe a little bit different attitude going about it."

GANASSI TO NASCAR?: Chip Ganassi, owner of four consecutive CART titles, will become majority owner of Felix Sabates' Team SABCO and run two cars in the Dodge next season, the Indianapolis Star reported.

"All I can say is Chip is definitely interested in going Winston Cup racing and that's one of the reason's I'm here," veteran NASCAR crew chief Andy Graves told the Star. Graves is overseeing Ganassi's teams at the Indianapolis 500.

EUROPEAN GP: Rookie Jenson Button led the day's Formula One practice in 1 minute, 19.808 seconds, an average speed of 127.750 mph. Alexander Wurz was second fastest at 1:20.248 at Nuerburgring, Germany.

NHRA SPRING SUPERNATIONALS: Larry Dixon led Top Fuel qualifying with a quarter-mile run of 4.644 seconds at a top speed of 311.70 mph in Englishtown, N.J. Jim Epler topped Funny Car with 4.958 seconds at 308.14 mph, Ron Krisher led Pro Stock at 200.83 mph, and Craig Treble led Pro Stock Motorcycle at 191.00 mph.

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