CONCORD, N.C. -- Aside from the $500,000 payout to the winner, drivers love The Winston because they use the all-star race as a tuneup for the next week.
So when a power outage forced NASCAR to cancel practice at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Friday night, more than a few drivers were upset.
"I think we should stay here until midnight to get the practice in, but it's not up to me," said pole-sitter Rusty Wallace. "For me, this is the big tuneup for the Coca-Cola 600, so this practice time is critical."
Track officials said an electric substation in nearby Harrisburg was struck by a car, knocking out power in the surrounding area. The lights went out at 6:20 p.m., a little over an hour before the 19 cars qualified for Saturday night's race.
So with just enough daylight left for drivers to navigate their way around the track, qualifying went on as planned for the annual all-star race.
Wallace, one of the first drivers out, had enough light to complete a pit stop and run three laps on the 1.5-mile track with an average speed of 140.458 mph. Bobby Labonte was second at 140.385. Rookie Kevin Harvick, driving the late Dale Earnhardt's car, was third at 140.080.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., the defending champion in the 70-lap shootout, qualified 15th.
"Nothing about this race is like any other, so the power being out is just another curveball for us," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I've raced in worse conditions than this, so a couple of laps around a dark track was nothing."
But not being able to go on the track for the "Happy Hour" practice session was something.
The cancellation robbed drivers of an opportunity to get in valuable laps under cool-night conditions. The Winston is typically viewed as a warmup for next week's Coca-Cola 600, also run under the lights.
Jeff Gordon, 10th in the qualifying, was among the most vocal drivers when NASCAR called off the practice session.
"All we come here for is practice time at night," Gordon said. "Losing it, or practicing in the day is useless here."
While the qualifying speeds couldn't be posted on the scoring tower, NASCAR officials were still able register the speeds using battery power, and circulated results to the teams by radio.
The qualifying process requires all cars to make a four-tire pit stop before their three-lap runs. Only 19 drivers are eligible for the race, with the winners of two qualifying events held hours before The Winston also making the field.
Johnny Benson beat 29 other drivers to take the pole for The Winston Open, the first of the two qualifying races.
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