Bowyer collects inaugural pole on NASCAR's premier circuit

Associated Press • May 12, 2007 at 1:36 AM

DARLINGTON, S.C. - Clint Bowyer took care of one goal Friday with his first Nextel Cup pole. He hopes to accomplish an even bigger one tonight.

Bowyer's lap at 164.987 mph earned him the top starting position for the Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington Raceway. It also gave him a place in next winter's Bud Shootout at Daytona International Speedway. His first Cup victory would put Bowyer in the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge.

"I got in the Bud Shootout, now I've got to get in the All-Star race," Bowyer said. "Maybe this is the weekend I get both of them."

Two-time defending race champion Greg Biffle was second at 164.878 mph, followed by Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards. For McMurray, it's his best starting spot in seven Nextel Cup events at Darlington Raceway.

Kasey Kahne, who had won three of the past four poles at Darlington, was fifth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who announced his planned departure from Dale Earnhardt Inc. on Thursday, got a big ovation from the fans. However, he could do no better than 21st at 162.807.

The struggles of Toyota's top two racers continued with Dale Jarrett and Michael Waltrip failing to make the race. Jarrett, who used up his last past champion provisional earlier this season, also missed last week's race at Richmond - the first time since 1994 he wasn't in the starting grid.

Rookie David Reutimann had the fastest Toyota, qualifying 14th.

Tonight's event will be the fifth race - and at Darlington's 1.366 miles, the longest test so far - for the Car of Tomorrow.

LIFE GOES ON: If DEI is doomed without its namesake driver, no one told Martin Truex Jr.

Truex, who won two Busch Series championships for the team, said Friday he has no plans to follow Junior out the door. Earnhardt is leaving at the end of the season, but Truex said his contract runs through 2008.

"People think I'm crazy when I say this, but I really don't think it's a big deal," Truex said. "Just 'cause Junior isn't driving for us, I don't see it making that big of an impact. Maybe long term, but not in the next couple years."

DEI's employees put up a strong front in their first visit to a track since Earnhardt announced his seventh season with his late father's company would be his last.

His crew has promised to continue to work hard and make a run at the Nextel Cup championship.

"Dale Jr. made a decision at a much higher level than what we do at the racetrack with the race cars," DEI technical director Steve Hmiel said. "The things that happen in terms of business, or planning your future, decisions with a family business - they are huge. We would never presume to be a part of that.

"Junior's driving the wheels off and we're working like mad to make sure he can run up front. It's our job to do things right and it's in our interest to do things right."

BACK TO THE FUTURE: The Car of Tomorrow might not be so different, after all.

A NASCAR exhibit outside Darlington Raceway detailed how the CoT compares to cars driven by stars such as Richard Petty, David Pearson and Darrell Waltrip in the 1970s.

On display was Petty's famed "Superbird" Dodge Charger that he ran for 11 races in 1972 and exclusively from 1973 through 1978. The car featured the back-end flap - not unlike NASCAR's CoT - to aid aerodynamics.

Petty won 37 races and driver's titles in 1972, 1974 and 1975 with the car.

"That was the best-handling car on the superspeedway because it was built to stick on the ground," Petty said Friday.

Hendrick Motorsports has won first four CoT races.

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