DOVER, Del. (AP) -- Like the rest of America, Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat by his TV stunned by the events of last week.
Reminded again of his own grief, he developed a silent bond with those who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks.
"I don't know how to compare it to losing my father," he said Friday after qualifying for the MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400. "But I think I know what those people feel like."
Earnhardt, who will start third Sunday behind polesitter Dale Jarrett, has spent much of this season hoping to move beyond the death of his father. The Intimidator, who won a record-tying seven NASCAR Winston Cup championships, was killed seven months ago in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Now, his son hopes to move beyond the horrors of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but can't avoid comparing his grief to that being felt by relatives of the victims of terrorism.
"It's kind of hard thinking about it or trying to deal with it," Earnhardt said. "It's frustrating not knowing what to do."
But he certainly knows what to do with some of money he'll earn Sunday at Dover Downs International Speedway. For each of the scheduled 400 laps he completes on The Monster Mile, Earnhardt will donate $100 to charity, and any pit stop under 14 seconds will generate another $10,000.
Jarrett, who won the pole by taking his Ford around the track at 154.919 mph, got the charity ball rolling by donating his $6,000 prize to the American Red Cross.
He felt renewed after spending time with his family, a rarity in NASCAR, where drivers are on the move all but a few weeks each year racing and testing their cars. The racers were off last week because the New Hampshire 300 was postponed.
"We go to do some things last week that normal people do," Jarrett said. "I learned a lot about where my priorities are and where they should be."
He learned enough Friday to edge Labonte, whose Pontiac went 154.872. The speeds of both were far off Rusty Wallace's two-year-old track record of 159.964.
Although Jarrett is happy to be back, he said NASCAR did the right thing postponing the New Hampshire race to Nov. 23.
"It's a sport and it's our profession, but it's entertainment," he said. "That's not what we needed to do last week."
On Friday, he did what was needed, earning a pole at Dover. He started first here in June, but did so because he was the Winston Cup points leader when qualifying was rained out.
This time, nobody was faster. But Jarrett says he's always amazed by the speeds on the high-banked oval, one of just two concrete tracks on the circuit.
"It feels like you're going 300 mph," he said. "The qualifying lap is pretty exciting."
The 14th top start of Jarrett's career kept Labonte from getting his 22nd. But the Winston Cup champion was happy with the outside of the front row.
"It was the best lap I had all day," he said.
Earnhardt's Chevrolet went 154.852. Next came Jarrett's teammate, four-time Dover winner Ricky Rudd.
His Ford went 154.792 to claim the fourth spot in a field of 43. Ricky Craven took the inside of the third row, getting around in his Ford at 154.367. Kenny Wallace, substituting for the injured Steve Park, went 154.341 in a Chevy.
Jeremy Mayfield, the polesitter for this race last year, will start seventh. Ron Hornaday, Todd Bodine and four-time Dover winner Bill Elliott completed the top 10.
Defending race champion Tony Stewart, who swept last year at Dover, will start 11th. Points leader Jeff Gordon, who won in June for the fourth time on the track, will start 23rd.
This weekend, Gordon and Labonte are carrying data recorders, the so-called black boxes NASCAR promised last month when it reported on the death of the elder Earnhardt.
Gary Nelson, the sanctioning body's technical director, said the battery powered devices are being tested for heat resistance and durability.
Nelson said boxes were being used in two Busch series and two Busch North cars this weekend, and explained that examining crash data is not yet NASCAR's top priority.
Perhaps because aces Gordon and series champion Labonte were selected, Nelson said he was asked in the garage, "Why don't you find guys who would really test them?"
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