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Green stuns Earnhardt, NASCAR observers with top spot



Published: Tue, February 11, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The unheralded driver earned the pole position for Sunday's season-opening race.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- From the time the cars came off the trucks at Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the only driver being talked about.

Jeff Green liked it that way.

Green bumped Earnhardt Jr. off the pole Monday to earn the top starting spot for the season-opening Daytona 500.

It was a stunning victory for the often overlooked 40-year-old driver, a former Busch Series champion still seeking his first Winston Cup win.

"I enjoy people not talking about me a lot," Green said. "When you slip up and win one of these things and slip up and win poles, it tends to make a better story. Things like that make me go and hopefully it will keep going that way."

Green, driving the No. 30 Chevrolet owned by Richard Childress Racing, knocked Earnhardt Jr. off the pole five minutes after Earnhardt took the top spot by posting a lap at 186.606 mph.

The favorite

Earnhardt Jr., the clear favorite to win Sunday's season-opening race, went out 35th among 50 cars that made qualifying runs. He ran a lap at 186.382 mph to top Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Michael Waltrip's lap of 185.460 mph.

Green was the next car to go out and bumped him off the pole.

"I said this morning that a lot of people overlooked us," Green said. "This was not a surprise to me. We have a great package for here and hopefully we'll show it in the race, too."

Green and Earnhardt Jr. were the only two drivers to lock down starting spots for Sunday's Winston Cup opener. The rest of the 51 cars entered will have to wait until after Thursday's Twin 125-mile Qualifying races to find out where they'll start -- or if they'll start -- on Sunday.

"It was kind of bittersweet to lose the pole but, in a way, we have so much to be proud of because we've improved so much," Earnhardt said. "We have never really qualified better than 15th here so, for me, it was a fantastic lap."

Recent winners

The DEI cars driven by Earnhardt Jr. and Waltrip have won six of the past eight races at Daytona and Talladega, but Green proved the Richard Childress Racing cars will be strong Sunday.

Robby Gordon, his RCR teammate, ran a lap at 185.927 mph to bump Waltrip back to fourth and Kevin Harvick was sixth fastest at 185.063 mph.

Childress, who added Green as a third driver and had considerable turnover of personnel last year, said, "We've got some long-range plans at RCR. Last year, we had some short-term sacrifices for long-term success."

Only Ricky Rudd, who was fifth fastest at 185.372 mph in the Wood Brothers Ford, kept Chevrolet from sweeping the top six positions in qualifying.

Dale Jarrett, also in a Ford, was seventh fastest with Bobby Labonte eighth in his Chevrolet. Tony Stewart, Labonte's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and defending Cup champion, didn't complete a qualifying lap when his Chevy suffered an engine problem.

Sterling Marlin, Kyle Petty and Jamie McMurray, all in Dodges, rounded out the top 10. Ricky Craven had the fastest lap in a Pontiac, 14th best at 184.362.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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