INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Elliott Sadler avoided the wiggles, wobbles and technical problems that plagued other drivers qualifying for The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

The changing track conditions didn’t slow him down, either.

Sadler used a clean run and perfectly-timed cloud cover to his advantage Saturday, posting a fast lap of 184.116 mph for his second pole of the NASCAR season.

“I didn’t think we’d qualify that good,” Sadler said. “I knew we were going to have a great car in race trim. I didn’t think it would be that good in qualifying trim.”

Sadler was one of the fortunate drivers on Indianapolis’ storied 2.5-mile oval.

Three drivers – last year’s pole-winner Casey Mears, Jimmy Spencer and Rusty Wallace – all crashed, while rookie Boris Said bounced off the wall and still qualified.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson didn’t even get that chance. His car failed inspection twice because of a dangling chain in the rear end and then ran out of time when he couldn’t beat the five-minute limit to get back in line.

To Sadler’s surprise, nobody even challenged him. Jeremy Mayfield was second with a lap of 183.053. Sadler won his first pole since Bristol on April 3 despite being significantly slower than Mears’ record lap of 186.293, set last year.

“It was very fast right off the truck,” Sadler said. “It’s very fun to drive and I think we definitely have the car to beat here tomorrow.”

Brian Vickers was fastest early in the session at 182.785 and, when the sun appeared and the track warmed, it seemed Vickers might stay on top.

But midway through qualifying, Sadler took advantage of the changing track conditions. He drove smoothly through the turns, getting close to the concrete walls – but not too close. When his run ended, Sadler figured somebody would go faster. Nobody did, and most conceded they couldn’t.

“I drove a little tentative at a couple of points because it was loose, and then I was mad at myself because I thought maybe I should have tried a little harder,” Michael Waltrip said after qualifying third at 182.975. “But then I saw Rusty crash and I thought maybe I did the right thing.”

Kasey Kahne qualified fourth just hours after announcing he’d signed a long-term contract to drive for Ray Evernham.

Vickers will start fifth, on the inside of Row 3, next to Indiana native Ryan Newman.

Defending race champion Jeff Gordon qualified seventh for what he hopes will be a history-making run.

Gordon is trying to become the first five-time race winner at Indianapolis.

“Just the four is really impressive,” said Gordon, who has been in a slump and needs a strong performance on Today. “To do a fifth would be unbelievable.”

On Saturday morning, Mears had the fastest practice lap, 184.873, and was expected to challenge for his second straight Brickyard pole. But his car wiggled in the first turn, and he lost control coming out of the third turn, hitting the outside wall. He did not finish the qualifying run and will start 40th based on car owner points.

“The car got loose getting into three, and I just got up in the marbles,” Mears said.

Johnson will start 42nd and Wallace, who is retiring after this season, will start 41st in final race at Indy.

“Being on the pole at the Brickyard is one step closer to a dream,” Sadler said. “I really want to kiss the bricks. That was our mind-set when we came here.”

Earnhardt open to Eury reunion

INDIANAPOLIS – Dale Earnhardt Jr. blames the controversial crew swap with teammate Michael Waltrip on immature and childish behavior.

Now that he realizes he was partly to blame for souring the relationship with former crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who is also his cousin, it appears the two could be reunited as soon as next season.

“Tony Jr. is awesome. I always felt like he was going to be one of the best crew chiefs in the business,” Earnhardt said. “I do want to work with him again. I think we should.”

Richie Gilmore, vice president of Dale Earnhardt Inc., said Saturday that it would be up to team owner Teresa Earnhardt to move Eury back to crew chief of the No. 8 Chevrolet.

But it’s clear to everyone involved that separating the two and sending Eury to run Waltrip’s team did wonders for their relationship.

“I think that they gained a lot of respect back for each other,” Gilmore said.

The crew swap at DEI has been widely viewed as a bust for Earnhardt, who has struggled with his new team. He fired the first crew chief he was given after 11 races and has been trying to salvage the season with technical director Steve Hmiel running the show on a temporary basis.

Still, he has just one victory this season and is 14th in points heading into Sunday’s Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Waltrip’s team, with Eury calling the shots, is 19th in the points but has run much better than its standing.

But Earnhardt insists the switch was a good idea regardless of on-track performance.

“We didn’t change the teams because of a performance issue. We changed it because of an attitude issue between me and Tony Jr.,” he said. “We changed it, maybe not for the right reasons, but the change did what it was supposed to it. It fixed his attitude and it fixed my attitude.

“It’s not always greener on the other side for either one of us. We both look at each other and talk to each other today totally different. I think that gives us that opportunity to work together in the future that we wouldn’t of had if we would have run ourselves totally apart.”

Now forced to fight his way into NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, Earnhardt has just six races left to qualify for the playoffs. If he does get in, Gilmore said Saturday that DEI would not move Eury over to his team for the Chase.

But no one is ruling out teaming the two in the future. In fact, Waltrip is leaving DEI at the end of the next season because the organization would not guarantee him that he would work with Eury in the future.

However, Waltrip could end up with Eury anyway.

Gilmore said Saturday that Eury has no contract with DEI and admitted Waltrip could take him to his next team. But he said early indications were that he would stay at DEI.

“The Eurys have never had contracts, they’ve always just been there,” Gilmore said. “It’s always been an agreement and a year-to-year deal. Tony Jr. has told me he’s not going anywhere and we’re working on a deal and it would be his first contract – ever.

“That’s the only place Tony Jr. has ever worked.”

Now that Earnhardt and Eury are getting along again, its likely that Eury won’t leave. The cousins have always been close. When paired together on a race team, the two fought like brothers. It got so bad in the end that Earnhardt said the two hardly spoke the entire weekend of last year’s season finale in Homestead, Fla.

Teresa Earnhardt then swapped the teams a few weeks later, separating Earnhardt and Eury to give them a break.

Now, the old adage “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ has never been more fitting.

“We were driving ourselves apart with our attitudes toward each other,” Earnhardt said. “Sometimes we act like children and sometime you need a lesson, and we had to give it to ourselves.

“We’re just both really immature for our age, and that’s due to the fact that our fathers let us raise ourselves pretty much. The more mature we get, the easier it is for us to work together.”

AP-ES-08-06-05 1742EDT


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