Gordon on Coca-Cola pole

The Associated Press

(May 22) CONCORD, N.C. -- Jeff Gordon turned a fast lap of 182.976 mph Wednesday night to edge Ward Burton for the top starting spot in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.

"That's half a second faster than anything I did in practice today. I just ran as hard as I possibly could," Gordon said after he won his fifth consecutive Coca-Cola 600 pole and his sixth in 10 career Winston Cup races at Charlotte.

Gordon's 18th career pole came four days after he ran out of gas while leading on the final lap of The Winston, the circuit's annual all-star race at Charlotte. The miscalculation by Gordon's crew translated into a 12th place finish for their driver and an improbable victory for Mark Martin.

"Maybe we had a little bit of fire in us from Saturday night," Gordon said.

Gordon's redemption overshadowed an evening of posturing by five drivers who will be chasing a $1 million bonus in Sunday's 600-mile race, the longest on the Winston Cup circuit. The Winston No Bull 5 is open to drivers who can win any of five selected races after finishing in the top five of the previous No Bull 5 event.

That means that the top five finishers from the Daytona 500 -- Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Labonte, Jeremy Mayfield, Ken Schrader and Rusty Wallace Ñ can collect a $1 million bonus by winning Sunday at Charlotte.

Earnhardt had just the 27th fastest speed Wednesday night, when the top 25 starting spots were locked in for Sunday's 43-car grid. Earnhardt's poor performance meant he has failed to qualify in the top 25 in nine of 10 races since winning the season opener at Daytona. Among the other No Bull 5 contenders, Wallace qualified fourth, Labonte was sixth, Mayfield 12th and Schrader was 14th.

Burton turned a fast lap of 182.624, but it wasn't enough to hold up to yet another strong run by Gordon. It was his 10th consecutive top-five start at Charlotte since May 1993, when he made his Winston Cup debut at the track and started 21st.

"I don't know what it is about why we qualify so good here," said Gordon, who tied David Pearson's record of five consecutive Coca-Cola 600 poles, a mark set from 1974 to 1978. "Ray's got a great combination and they build great engines and the guys just work real hard to give me good race cars."

The surprise of the evening was Gary Bradberry, who has failed to make the field seven times this year. He had the eighth best qualifying speed.

Bill Elliott had just the 32nd fastest speed before leaving the track to fly to Houston, where his father, George, was scheduled for surgery Thursday. A tumor was discovered on the right side of George Elliott's brain last week.

Bill Elliott arranged to have Busch Grand National series regular Jeff Green practice his car for him Thursday.

Earnhardt, Elliott and the rest of those who did not make the top 25 had the option of standing on their first-round speeds or trying again Thursday, when a second round of time trials was scheduled to set the rest of the field.