FONTANA, Calif. -- The closer Mike Skinner gets to winning a Winston Cup race, the sharper the sting of losing.
''If you're not in the hunt, you work harder to get in it,'' Skinner said. ''If you're in the hunt and you don't win, yeah, that's pretty frustrating. It would be less frustrating if we weren't in contention so often and have so many stupid things happen to us.''
He came close last month in Atlanta, dominating the race before a blown engine took him out while leading with 20 laps remaining. Two weeks ago in Talladega, Skinner finished a career-best second to Jeff Gordon after making what he considered a mistake with six laps to go by following pole-winner Jeremy Mayfield up high instead of staying with Gordon on the low side of the track.
Skinner, considered by many the best current Winston Cup driver who has not won a race, outdueled Jimmy Spencer and Ricky Rudd on Friday to win the pole for the NAPA Auto Parts 500 at California Speedway.
His fast lap of 186.061 mph led 23 drivers who broke the previous track qualifying record of 185.753, set by Greg Sacks in 1997. It was the fifth pole Skinner's career and first since last September in Richmond.
More important, Skinner put himself in position for a shot at becoming the 10th different winner in as many races this season, as well as ending his personal string of 119 races without a victory.
''I'd never thought I'd be this far in my cup career without winning a points race,'' Skinner said.
Asked how he feels about nine winners already this year, Skinner said, ''It's time for us to have a 10th.''
In three previous races at the Southern California track, each winner has come from the top five starters.
''I don't know that that means very much,'' Skinner said. ''The guy who starts 42nd, if he gets his car hooked up, he'll be the man to beat. Now that we've got the car in the race, we can concentrate on making it better in race trim.''
Spencer was second at 185.979, followed by Rudd at 185.830, Ward Burton at 185.558, Winston Cup points leader Mark Martin at 185.486, rookie Scott Pruett at 185.204 and three-time Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, Spencer's teammate, at 185.014.
Among the seven fastest qualifiers, Martin and Burton are the only winners this year.
The runner-up Ford was just 0.017-second slower than Skinner's Chevrolet on Friday.
''When you get that close, you're upset because, naturally, you want to be on the pole,'' Spencer said. ''We just bobbled a little bit in (turns) three and four. That little bit probably cost us the pole.''
Spencer, who has struggled most of the season, gave credit to his Carter-Haas Racing crew for rebuilding the team's Ford chassis in the past few weeks.
''I got down on the guys in the shop and told them they weren't doing the job I thought they needed to do,'' he said. ''I've got to tip my hat to them because they've finally done some good work and built some really good race cars.''
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