LONG POND, Pa. (AP) – It took 14 years to do it, but Michael Waltrip is once again a polesitter on NASCAR’s top circuit.

The 42-year-old from Owensboro, Ky., ended a qualifying drought of 446 races by putting his Chevrolet in the top spot Saturday at Pocono Raceway. Waltrip got around the 2.5-mile triangular-shaped oval at 169.052 mph for his first pole since Michigan in 1991.

He edged Nextel Cup series champion Kurt Busch, who will start on the outside of the front row Sunday in the $4.75 million Pocono 500. It was the third career pole for two-time Daytona 500 champion Waltrip, a regular in the series since 1984.

“I remember that pole at Michigan and Dover (a month earlier), and I didn’t dream that I’d be an old man when I won my next one,” Waltrip said.

Although he knew he had a strong car, Waltrip expressed surprise that he was able to put it on the pole.

“I got a little sideways,” he said. “We weren’t prefect, but we were good enough.”

Waltrip and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. swapped crews and cars at the beginning of this season. Using self-deprecating humor, Waltrip said the pole was proof of how well everything is working for him and the team led by Tony Eury Jr.

“There’s probably a lot of guys, owners in the garage area, walking around saying, “Man, he can take Michael and run good with him, just think what he could do if we gave him a real driver,”‘ Waltrip said.

Eury tried to downplay his role. “I’ve got to concentrate on what Michael Waltrip wants,” he said. “If he’s comfortable, he’s going to go fast.”

Busch, whose Ford qualified at 168.768, wasn’t surprised by Waltrip’s run.

“He drove away from us in practice,” Busch said.

Third on the grid was the Chevrolet of Brian Vickers, who qualified at 168.334. Vickers and Busch made reference to the first Pocono action under new gearing rules that will prevent downshifting.

Vickers wondered how the gearing change would affect the race. “I think it’s going to be hard to complete passes with the new rule,” he said.

Qualifying fourth in a Dodge was Jamie McMurray, who went 167.842. Scott Riggs completed the top five in a Chevy at 167.563.

Jeremy Mayfield, Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick, Mike Bliss and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top 10.

Lap times were off considerably from Kasey Kahne’s year-old record of 172.533. That was to be expected in view of the gearing rule. Without shifting, the cars lose speed in the sharp turns.

Qualifying ace and former Pocono polesitter Ryan Newman was 17th, ending a run of 20 consecutive top-10 starts.

AP-ES-06-11-05 1623EDT


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