Dover, Del. Dale Jarrett spent last week with his family, trying to deal with the unprecedented terrorist attacks. On Friday, he dealt with The Monster Mile like never before.
Jarrett's Ford got around Dover Downs International Speedway in 22.238 seconds, going 154.919 mph to beat Bobby Labonte by just 7-thousandths of a second and win the pole for Sunday's MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400.
Although Jarrett is happy to be back on the track this week, he appreciated NASCAR's decision to postpone the race last Sunday in Loudon, N.H.
"We did not need to be at a race track," he said. "It's a sport and it's our profession, but it's entertainment. That's not what we needed to do last week."
He did what was necessary Friday, getting his first earned pole at Dover. He started first here in June, but did so because he was the Winston Cup points leader when qualifying was rained out.
Jarrett donated his $6,000 award for winning the pole to the Red Cross.
Jarrett felt renewed by spending time with his family, a rarity in NASCAR, where drivers are on the move all but a few weeks each year, racing and testing their cars.
"We got to do some things last week that normal people do," he said. "I learned a lot about where my priorities are and where they should be."
He learned enough Friday to edge Labonte, whose Pontiac went 154.872. The speeds of both were far off Rusty Wallace's two-year-old track record of 159.964.
Jarrett smiled when asked about speeds on the high-banked oval, one of just two concrete tracks on the circuit.
"Ricky Rudd and I were talking about how fast this track seems," Jarrett said. "It feels like you're going 300 mph. The qualifying lap is pretty exciting, but you're just happy when you're through."
It also was the 14th top start of Jarrett's career.
Labonte just missed getting his 22nd career pole, but wasn't unhappy with his run.
"It was the best lap I had all day," he said. "It didn't start out good this morning, but the guys worked on the car, and every time we made a list the thing we did seemed to work."
A close third was Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose Chevrolet went 154.852. Next came Jarrett's teammate, four-time Dover winner Rudd.
"I didn't think it was going to be that good," Earnhardt said. "We were fifth in practice, and it was comfortable, but not quite right."
Like Jarrett, Earnhardt was happy to have the week off.
"You just kind of feel helpless," he said. "But getting back to the race track feels good."
Rudd's Ford went 154.792 to claim the fourth spot in a field of 43. Ricky Craven took the inside of the third row, getting around in his Ford at 154.367. Kenny Wallace, substituting for the injured Steve Park, went 154.341 in a Chevy.
Jeremy Mayfield, the polesitter for this race last year, will start seventh. Ron Hornaday, Todd Bodine and four-time Dover winner Bill Elliott completed the top 10.
Defending race champion Tony Stewart, who swept last year at Dover, will start 11th. Points leader Jeff Gordon, who won in June for the fourth time on the track, will start 23rd.
This weekend, Gordon and Labonte are carrying data recorders, the so-called black boxes NASCAR promised in the wake of the death seven months ago of seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt. Gary Nelson, the sanctioning body's technical director, said the battery-powered devices are being tested for heat resistance and durability.
Nelson said boxes also will be carried by two Busch series and two Busch North cars this weekend, and explained that examining crash data is not yet NASCAR's top priority.