by Lynne Huntting

JAMIE McMURRAY/#26 FORD is on pole for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Infineon Raceway in the Northern California wine country - the first road course Cup race this season. His time was 77.521/92.414 mph.

"Qualifying here is difficult. I was up early this morning looking at stats and data. I really like coming to road courses, genuinely like road racing, and follow Formula One," he noted.

His team's testing was done by BORIS SAID, who is racing #60 Ford this weekend and qualified fourth.

Second was ROBBY GORDON/#7 Ford. He said he lost out on pole by luck of the draw. The track temperature was 25-35 degrees cooler for Junior and Jamie.

DALE EARNHARDT/#8 Chevrolet was third. He admitted he sped up by slowing down in the COT. He said trying to challenge the car through the corners could cause problems. The test at Virginia International Raceway was helpful and he ran eighty percent and did better.

Fourth was BORIS SAID/#60 Ford, who does all the COT testing for Roush Racing. He also is running in the NASCAR Grand National West Division race, but didn't practice Friday 'because I don't want to be used to my car': "It's so nerve-racking when you don't have any points to fall back on." TONY STEWART/#20 Chevrolet was fifth.

Sixth through tenth were JEFF BURTON/#31 Chevrolet, BILL ELLIOTT/#21 Ford, KASEY KAHNE/#9 Dodge, RYAN NEWMAN/#1 Dodge, and CLINT BOWYER/#07 Chevrolet.

The top Rookie was JUAN PABLO MONTOYA/#42 Dodge, who qualified thirty-second in a field of fifty. The only other Rookie to make the race of four entered this weekend was DAVID RAGAN/#6 Ford, starting thirty-seventh.

The top road racing specialist was RON FELLOWS/#96 Chevrolet, qualifying eleventh. MARC GOOSSENS/#91 Toyota is running his first Cup race this year, and will start twenty-first. He comes from a sports car and European road racing background. BUTCH LEITZINGER/#23 Toyota qualified thirtieth. P.J. JONES/#00 Toyota was the last of the specialists who made the show, in thirty-fourth place.

Those who failed to make the show were: WARD BURTON/#4 Chevrolet, SCOTT RIGGS/#10 Dodge, BRANDON ASH/#02 Dodge, Rookie PAUL MENARD/#15 Chevrolet; BRIAN VICKERS/#83 Toyota, Rookie A.J. ALLMENDINGER/#84 Toyota, BRIAN SIMO/#37 Dodge, KENNY WALLACE/#78 Chevrolet, and KLAUS GRAF/#49 Dodge.

Not running were points leaders and Hendrick Motorsports team-mates, JEFF GORDON/#24 and JIMMIE JOHNSON/#48 Chevrolet. They weren't allowed on track Friday after their cars failed morning inspection. This is the first Car of Tomorrow road course race. Technical inspection takes 45-60 minutes from start to finish. The first step is the new aluminium template, which is hung from the ceiling of the first of several Tech tents. It is lowered over the car and is the same for all cars. It covers the roof and parts of the front and rear decks, but not all. In addition to the template, the NASCAR officials carry Dell PDA's to input and compare data.

Johnson's crew chief, CHAD KNAUS, said the templates fit. "It was my understanding that it was the in between template areas which didn't fit." Both fenders were involved--deemed to be out of tolerance. Knaus estimated there to be a ten inch area beyond the template which Knaus said "we didn't think was governed. Now we know it's governed."

DOUG DUCHARDT, Hendrick Motorsports VP of Development, said: "We've been fortunate enough to have five of our cars at the tech centre since we've won the first five COT races. So, our cars have probably been scrutinized more than any other cars in the garage area after the races and we did not receive any warning in those areas. None."

CHAD KNAUS, crew chief for Johnson, said there was no need to revert to the back-up cars. "The cars were repaired to, what we believe NASCAR deems sufficient. Both cars look good right now."

NASCAR will announce Saturday whether or not the two Hendrick Motorsports cars will be allowed on track.