WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) -- Michael Waltrip took the advice of the continent's best road racer and beat everybody but Ricky Rudd in qualifying at Watkins Glen International.
But if Waltrip wins Sunday, his road-course coach won't be around to take any bows. Canadian Ron Fellows, a five-time winner of NASCAR events on the serpentine track, will be back home in Toronto.
"I'm not a very good spectator," he said Friday. "It's too tough."
Fellows, who has won three times on the track in the Busch series and twice on the Craftsman Truck circuit, signed on as Waltrip's driving coach with Dale Earnhardt Inc. after he was unable to secure financing for his own ride.
His absence from the field figures to give Waltrip and Rudd, who qualified at 122.696 mph, an easier road to victory. As one of the "hired guns," Fellows finished second at The Glen in 1999, nearly becoming the first non-regular to win a Winston Cup race since Mark Donohue 26 years earlier.
"I think he's the best there is at Watkins Glen," four-time and defending race champion Jeff Gordon has said.
Fellows also could be the best ever to coach here. But he insisted the team and Waltrip were responsible for the great lap.
"I thought when I talked to him this morning that they had a real good car to race with and anything he got in qualifying would be a bonus," Fellows said.
Waltrip wasn't surprised by his success, saying he could have gone faster than his lap of 122.635.
"I made a big mistake in the esses and got sideways and had to back off the gas," he said.
After the Ford of Rudd and the Chevrolet of Waltrip came the Pontiac of troubled Tony Stewart, who went 122.485. Stewart was fined a total of $60,000 earlier this week and placed on probation for the rest of the season for the second year in a row. This time it was for punching a photographer last Sunday after the Brickyard 400.
"It's nice to go out after all the destruction I've done and be able to go out there and do something positive," Stewart said. "It's a good reward for the team."
Rudd also didn't let a distraction slow him down. There are no lingering questions where he will race in 2003, and that's enabling him to concentrate more on finishing strong this year.
"The one thing we do know is there's not a place for me at Robert Yates Racing next year, so we're going to move on," Rudd said without revealing specific plans.
He said the pole for Sunday's Winston Cup race proves that the differences he has had with Yates and crew chief Michael "Fatback" McSwain can be put aside at the race track. But Rudd was surprised by his first pole on the track.
"After I made my run, I was a little disappointed because the car drove so well," he explained, thinking it was too smooth to be the fastest lap. "Then they came on the radio and told me I won the pole."
A victory Sunday would give Rudd three at The Glen and seven on road courses. That would tie the record of Gordon, who qualified 23rd in a field of 43.
Bill Elliott, who has won the last two races, qualified fourth after starting 1-1-2 in the previous three events.
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