BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) -- Steve Park's boss, nine-time Bristol champion Dale Earnhardt, is a hard man to please. And Park knows that he and his team haven't done a lot of pleasing the past three seasons.
Park's Chevrolet Monte Carlo has come close to success since jumping to Winston Cup for Earnhardt three seasons ago. But Earnhardt is someone so driven that he plowed through Terry Labonte at this track in August to gain victory instead of settle for second.
Close to success is just not what The Intimidator is about.
''Sometimes if you get just a half a smile from him, you know you're doing good,'' said Park, who won his first Winston Cup pole and will start out front for Sunday's Food City 500. ''If you do something wrong, you're out on the farm on a tractor baling hay in the hot sun.''
The race Sunday at the .533-mile layout, considered one of the slipperiest in NASCAR, is the circuit's first short track stop.
Park took the pole in Earnhardt fashion, smashing Rusty Wallace's year-old qualifying record by more than a tenth of a second.
After, Earnhardt, who qualified 11th, spoke with Park about the pole win and urged him to keep it up.
''I was glad to see him hang on,'' Earnhardt said.
Park said the Winston Cup circuit, especially for a young team like his, can be grueling. Relationships you expect to happen with crew members take time -- or don't ever -- develop. Just when something clicks, a key person or component goes elsewhere.
All of it under the pulsing, impatient glare of Earnhardt.
''I still felt like a rookie through a lot of last year,'' said Park, who closed the season by qualifying second at the NAPA 500 in Hampton, Ga., four months ago.
Crew chief Paul Andrews, who has worked with other young drivers like the late Alan Kulwicki and Jeremy Mayfield, settled Park down during the offseason and told him to see how close they were to breaking through.
''This would be a good solid year to come out of the gate, with the same crew chief, a driver with a little more experience, good cars and good motors,'' Park said.
Park has never had much luck at Bristol. His best start in three previous races was 34th. He needed a provisional to make the Goody's 500 field seven months ago and his top finish was 23rd at the Food City 500 in 1999.
''I'm telling you, to go around here in 15 seconds, you've got to have a good car that you can concentrate on driving,'' Park said.
He'll have to do with some of the best in the business at his heels. Kenny Wallace, a past pole winner here, will start alongside. Four-time Bristol winner Jeff Gordon is third, followed by Earnhardt's teammate Mike Skinner, last week's Mall.com 400 champ Ward Burton, seven-time Bristol king Wallace and Labonte, the victim of Earnhardt's aggressive pass in August.
Labonte said he's put the past behind and hopes to be around at the end to fight for a lead.
''I don't worry too much about what happened then,'' Labonte said. ''You have to keep you mind on the race.''
There could be a lot of Earnhardt connections in that final sprint over Bristol's 36-degree banks. Besides Papa Dale going for his 10th victory here, Park's teammate, rookie Dale Earnhardt Jr., will start from the 12th slot.
Dale Jr. says since his father won two weeks ago in Hampton, Ga., he's fooling with old cars and ''doing things that he used to do five years ago and thought he didn't care very much about anymore. That's good to see.''
Imagine how charged up Earnhardt would be if Park could duplicate Rusty Wallace's win from the pole of a year ago.
''They've stuck it out with me, I've stuck it out with them,'' Park said. ''Greatness is expected. Dale Earnhardt is a winner and he's put everybody in place to make this team a winner. Now, we just have to go out and win.''
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