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MOTOR SPORTS NOTEBOOK: GORDON GRABS POLE FOR AUTO CLUB 500.

Byline: TIM HADDOCK

Staff Writer

FONTANA - NASCAR Nextel Cup Series driver Jeff Gordon qualified early Friday afternoon at California Speedway, and he was fast.

But even he didn't think he was fast enough to hold on to the pole for Sunday's Auto Club 500. Once the sun went down and the track started to cool, he anticipated faster times from the drivers who were qualifying later.

Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick challenged Gordon for the pole, but neither was able to put down a faster lap. Gordon won it with a lap at 185.735 mph.

"I really thought someone else was going to beat us because we went so early and with the sun going down," said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Hendrick Motorsports. "These guys have been working really hard to get us back where we need to be with getting poles and running fast and leading laps and hopefully winning races and battling for a championship."

It was Gordon's second career pole at California Speedway. He won his first in May 1998.

What might be more interesting, though, are the drivers who did not qualify. There were 51 trying to earn a spot for the Cup race, which meant eight were going home. Michael Waltrip, who was at the eye of the cheating storm at Daytona International Speedway last week, was one of those eight.

He was knocked out of the race by his own driver and teammate David Reutimann, who will start 33rd. Waltrip, who owns a three-car Toyota- powered team, saw his other driver Dale Jarrett make the race on a provisional for being a past Cup champion.

"(Waltrip's) put a lot into this team and this program, and I want all three of us to be in and we're not," Reutimann said. "Hopefully we'll keep gaining and make the whole organization stronger and we don't have to worry about not making races anymore."

Jeremy Mayfield, a previous winner at California Speedway, also did not qualify. A.J. Allmendinger, the promising rookie for Team Red Bull, failed to make his second race in a row.

Ward Burton, a Daytona 500 winner, did not qualify for his second straight race as well.

Four Toyota drivers qualified for the race. Dave Blaney was the top Toyota driver. He qualified his No. 22 Bill Davis Racing Camry at 14th. Brian Vickers, driving for the Toyota-powered Team Red Bull, will start behind Blaney in 15th.

Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the No. 42 Dodge for Chip Ganassi Racing, was the highest qualifying rookie. He will start ninth.

"I've raced here before in open wheel, but it's very different in these cars," said Montoya, who is beginning his first full season in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series after stints in CART and Formula One.

NASCAR on ESPN: One of the ways ESPN is hoping to improve the way NASCAR is broadcast is by using only high-definition cameras for its entire coverage. That means putting HD cameras on board cars during broadcasts.

ESPN is using the HD cameras in their coverage of the NASCAR Busch Series. It will transfer that practice when they take over the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series coverage later in the year.

Jill Frederickson, a coordinating producer for motor sports at ESPN, said the network has a few new graphic and visual elements it will introduce as the season progresses.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel," Frederickson said. "We want to make it better and amplify it."

timothy.haddock@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3715
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 24, 2007
Words:591
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