NASCAR

Rudd wins Aaron's 499 pole

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Talladega, AL (Sports Network) - Veteran grabbed the pole for the Aaron's 499 Nextel Cup race at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. The No.21 Wood Brothers Ford driver circle the tri-oval in 50.089 seconds (191.180 m.p.h.). The victory was Rudd's first of the season and 29th of his "Cup" career. The win was also the first for the Wood Brothers team since Buddy Baker won the pole at Atlanta in 1984.

"It couldn't be a better day for the Wood Brothers," said Rudd. "We were fastest in practice, but we didn't really know how fast we could run because we had a little help."

The qualifying time was nowhere near the record of 212.809 m.p.h. set in pre- restrictor plate days by (1987). won last year's pole with a time of 51.349 seconds (186.489 m.p.h.).

Starting on the front row with Rudd will be Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s . The No.15 Chevrolet posted a time of 50.143 seconds.

Series points leader and defending champion . (50.311) and (50.371) will start in row two.

"I would have liked to start on the pole, but you know we have our best car in the museum at Daytona," said Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt Jr. earned four straight victories at Talladega between October 2001 and last April, including a sweep there in 2002. His streak was broken when he finished second to his teammate Waltrip last fall. Earnhardt Jr.'s sweep in 2002 is one of six sweeps at the track since it began hosting races in 1969. While "Junior" is the only driver to win four consecutive races at Talladega, his father is the only driver to sweep the season races twice (1990 and 1999).

DEI has scored 10 victories in the 13 restrictor-plate races since the spring of 2001. Earnhardt Jr., has scored six times, while earned four of those victories (three at Daytona and last fall's race at Talladega).

Other prominent starters include: (11th), (22nd) and (31st).

Starting is not quite as important at Talladega as some other tracks. Eight of the last 10 races here have been won from starting positions of 13th or worse.

"Talladega is like a big chess game," said . "It's one of those races that is more a mental game than anything else."

Rudd will make his 55th start at Talladega, which will tie for the second most starts by any driver at the Alabama track. had 61 starts, the most of any driver. While Marcis and Waltrip have both posted victories at Talladega, Rudd has yet to take the checkered flag out front at one of the fastest track on the NASCAR circuit.

The race is scheduled to begin on Sunday at 1 p.m. (et).

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