Sadler wins third Talladega pole


TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) – Elliott Sadler has qualifying at Talladega Superspeedway all figured out. Now, if he can just keep all four tires on the ground in the race.

The Robert Yates Racing driver won his seventh NASCAR Nextel Cup pole Saturday. He has crashed in each of the past three fall races on the 2.66-mile Talladega oval, two of them spectacular airborne wrecks.

“I think I’ve had all the acrobatic movements that I need to do here in Talladega,” he said after driving to his second straight Talladega pole and third in the last six tries.

This one topped the rest of the field for today’s Aaron’s 499 by a wide margin. Sadler posted a lap of 188.511 mph in a Ford Fusion, easily beating runner-up Tony Stewart’s 187.658 in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

With horsepower-sapping carburetor restrictor plates slowing the cars and bunching them, at least one multicar crash is almost inevitable during each 500-mile event at the big track.

When “The Big One” does happen at Talladega, it seems as if Sadler is often in the midst of it.

In 2003, he barrel-rolled down the front stretch. The next year, Sadler slid backward through the infield grass and flipped through the air heading toward turn one. Last year, just 20 laps into the fall race, Jimmie Johnson slammed into the rear of Sadler’s car, igniting a nasty eight-car accident.

But Sadler has done pretty well in the races he has completed, finishing sixth last spring and third in the April of 2003.

“Yes, Talladega has been feast or famine for me,” Sadler said, grinning. “Hopefully, my Evel Knievel days are behind us. This car has a nice paint job and I really don’t want to scuff it up too much tomorrow.”

Sadler is off to a mediocre start in 2006. He started the season with a solid fourth-place finish in the Daytona 500, another plate race, but has only one other top 10 – sixth at Martinsville – in the seven races since the opener.

“I know it sounds funny to say this, since it’s Talladega, but I’m excited to be here,” Sadler said. “You know why? Because this is my best chance to date (this season) to win a race.

“Talladega is a good place to come if you drive for Robert Yates Racing. Every time we unload down here we’re going to be fast. Our cars are going to drive good and our motors are going to be good. So, from a company standpoint, this is a good place to come race for us.”

Sadler was referring to the fact that engines built by the combined Yates-Roush Racing engine program – which builds motors for all the Ford Cup teams – will occupy three of the top four spots and six of the top 10 heading into Sunday’s race.

Roush Racing’s Carl Edwards qualified third in a Ford at 187.320 and Dale Jarrett, Sadler’s teammate, fourth at 187.232.

Kurt Busch was fifth in a Dodge at 187.137, followed by Joe Nemechek’s 187.130 in a Chevrolet.

The rest of the top 10 included Roush’s Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray and Mark Martin, sandwiching the Chevy of Sterling Marlin.

Jeff Gordon, a four-time winner at Talladega and aiming for his third straight spring victory at this track, qualified 14th while Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson was 16th and five-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 27th.

“Restrictor plate racing, to me, is just tough racing,” Sadler said. “We’re all up on top of each other for 500 miles. It’s hard for us to race like that. It’s hard to ask 43 human beings to be perfect for 31/2 hours.”

AP-ES-04-29-06 1532EDT