TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) -- All qualifying for the Talladega 500 proved is that the new Dodges still have an edge at restrictor plate tracks, and nearly everyone else is close behind.
Just as they did in the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway -- another track where horsepower is restricted by the plates -- Intrepids swept the first three positions.
It was the same names, scrambled a bit, with Stacy Compton, second in Daytona, out front this time with a lap of 184.861 mph, the slowest pole qualifying run since Talladega Superspeedway opened in 1969.
The slowest previous Talladega pole was an unrestricted 184.926 lap in the fall of 1974 by David Pearson in a Mercury.
"It may be the slowest, but it'll probably be the closest (race) at the end of the day," Compton said.
Qualifying certainly backed up that theory, with the lap times of the top 37 cars separated by less than one second.
Sterling Marlin, who started third in Daytona, was second Friday at 184.576, while Daytona pole-winner Bill Elliott's Intrepid will start third in Sunday's 43-car field after qualifying at 184.009.
The focus now turns to the single 90-minute practice session Saturday, which should offer a much better indication of what Sunday's race will be like on the 2.66-mile, high-banked oval
"Tomorrow is going to be packs and packs of cars on top of each other," Marlin said. "It will be a madhouse."
The Dodge domination on Friday was something of a surprise after NASCAR took steps to slow the Intrepids a bit after Daytona by raising the ends of the metal strip across the top of the cars to even it up with the other makes.
"I feel like the rule change did hurt us about two tenths (of a second)," said Compton, whose first pole came in his 41st Winston Cup race. "But the guys went to work and worked hard to try to overcome the rule change in the shop with body dynamics and motor work."
For more than a decade, NASCAR has required the plates -- used to decrease horsepower and keep the cars under 200 mph on its two longest and fastest ovals -- at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega.
That has made the racing close and frightening, with cars unable to break out of big packs or accelerate out of trouble.
New aerodynamic rules instituted before the race here last fall, including a taller rear spoiler and the taxicab strip across the roof, have made it even tougher by making it easier to pass. There were 49 lead changes in the race here last October, and well over 200 position changes throughout the 43-car field.
"There's no advantage starting up front," Marlin said. "We started third at Daytona and looked up after the first 10 laps and the guys that started back around 40th were up there beating and banging.
"That's what's aggravating here. You can have a good car and, if you don't get help, you're sunk."
Fords took positions four through six, with Ricky Craven at 183.899, Mark Martin at 183.864 and Dale Jarrett, the series points leader and winner of three of the last four races, at 183.747.
Rounding out the top 10 were the Pontiac of Tony Stewart at 183.702 and the Chevrolets of Daytona winner Michael Waltrip at 183.575, rookie Kevin Harvick at 183.508 and Joe Nemechek at 183.483.
"The biggest thing about starting up front is you're probably not going to get caught in that big accident if it happens and you get your choice of pit location, so you can get in and out without getting caught behind somebody," Compton said.
"It doesn't really matter where you start as long as you stay on the lead lap here," Stewart said. "Your starting spot really doesn't matter unless something happens right at the beginning of the race.
"But it feels a lot better if you can start up towards the front, and if the car is good enough, hopefully, you can stay there all day."
Not likely, though, considering the last four Talladega races have been won by drivers starting 17th or lower.
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