RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Even after blowing the doors off every one that preceded him in qualifying, Mike Skinner knew the sky was moving Rusty Wallace's way.
He was right. Wallace took advantage of cloud cover that arrived in time for his late qualifying draw Friday night and won the pole for the Pontiac 400.
Wallace's speed of 124.749 mph easily beat the 124.499 put up by Steve Park and the 124.493 of Skinner.
Geoffrey Bodine, in his return to competition after a fiery crash in a truck race before the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, qualified fourth.
''It was a great run, but I'm still disappointed that we didn't get the pole,'' said Bodine, 51, who broke his right wrist and suffered a crushed vertabrae when his truck cartwheeled in flames after slamming into the wall at 190 mph.
''They've suffered this year with me not being in the car,'' he said of his Chevrolet crew members. ''I apologized to them all for that, but we're back.''
So is Wallace, arguably the best short-track racer on the Winston Cup circuit. He won at Bristol, Tenn., dominated at Martinsville before fading to 10th after the last series of pit stops and showed that he's still in form here.
''I'm always pumped when I get to go to Richmond,'' Wallace said. ''Richmond is a cool joint. I love coming up here. It's one of my favorite tracks.''
Wallace went 46th among 47 drivers and chopped .042 off Skinner's time.
''The weather was getting better and better and I felt like Rusty would have a good shot at us,'' Skinner said. ''Rusty cut a heck of a lap.''
Wallace said the late qualifying draw proved a big advantage, but he also credited a front shock change after the last practice with boosting his speed.
''I wouldn't trade this team right now for nothing,'' he said.
Park's qualifying run came three spots ahead of Wallace.
''I must be like Mr. Outside Pole,'' he said after arriving at the infield media center. ''Is Rusty in here yet? I want to yell at him. He's just too good here.''
Park also started second in Friday's Hardee's 250 Busch Grand National race won by Jeff Green.
Wallace became the first three-time pole-sitter of the season with his 29th career pole. Three of them have come at Richmond, where he's also won six times and finished in the top five 16 times in 23 races on the D-shaped layout.
''You go to those race tracks with more confidence than you do maybe at some other places, but the team has really been super all year long,'' he said.
The third row has Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ricky Rudd, followed by Tony Stewart, who won here in the fall; Wally Dallenbach, points leader Bobby Labonte and Bill Elliott. Mark Martin, 20 points behind Labonte in second place, qualified 11th.
''We've got the exact same package that we had last year. That's the thing that's helping us,'' said Stewart, who has struggled in his sophomore season. He stands 11th in points, but has managed only three top-5 finishes in 10 races.
Defending race champion Dale Jarrett qualified 18th, while the list of drivers outside the top 25 after the first round included Jeff Burton (29th), Terry Labonte (30th).
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