Talladega, Ala. "Front Row Joe" is back on top.
Joe Nemechek took his first pole of the season and the seventh of his NASCAR Nextel Cup career Friday, earning the top spot for the EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
"We've been right on top of our game," said Nemechek, who ran his No. 01 Chevrolet around the steeply banked 2.66-mile at 190.749 mph. "You know, it's about the car in qualifying. The car has got to be right, and the engine has got to be right.
"When the race comes, that's when the driver makes a difference."
Ricky Rudd was second in a Ford at 190.609, followed by Dale Jarrett's Taurus at 190.374 and the Chevy of Nemechek's rookie MBV/MB2 Motorsports teammate Scott Riggs at 190.310.
The rest of the top 10 was made up of drivers who are part of NASCAR's new 10-driver, 10-race playoff-style championship.
Series leader Jeff Gordon, winner of NASCAR's last two races at Talladega and Daytona, the two tracks where NASCAR requires horsepower-sapping carburetor restrictor plates, had a solid fifth-place run. That set up his chance to match the late Dale Earnhardt on Sunday as the only driver to win three plate races in a season.
Gordon will go into the race, the third in the championship showdown, with a one-point lead over Kurt Busch, who qualified eighth on Friday at 189.676. In between were Elliott Sadler at 189.752 and defending series champion Matt Kenseth at 189.710, with Jeremy Mayfield ninth at 189.526 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounding out the top 10 at 189.481.
Hornish seeks three in row at IRL's Toyota 400
Fontana, Calif. -- Sam Hornish Jr. aims to be patient and go fast -- not necessarily a contradiction. The Indy Racing League driver credited patience for last year's victory at California Speedway when he set an open-wheel-racing record by averaging 207.15 mph for the 400-mile event.
"I say a lot of times that you need patience. I don't say I always use it," Hornish said, smiling. "There are times when I'm pretty patient and I get things right. But there are still times when I get ahead of myself. I'm still learning."
Hornish, the two-time defending champion in the Toyota 400, will try to make it three in a row Sunday.
He averaged 214.92 mph on his fastest lap in a Dallara/Toyota during Friday's practice runs.
Dan Wheldon, a distant second behind series points leader Tony Kanaan heading into the season's final two races, had the fastest run at 217.22 mph.
"It's nice to know that if I don't win the championship, a close friend will win it," Wheldon said of his Andretti Green teammate. Buddy Rice was second fastest in practice at 216.94 mph.
Group to protest in 'Bama
Talladega, Ala. -- A group calling itself the National Association for Minority Race Fans has been offered a site for planned protests this weekend during NASCAR's events at Talladega Superspeedway. Track president Grant Lynch said he talked with representatives of the association for the first time Friday, and the group would be allowed to protest.