Mike Skinner finished off a can-you-top-this sequence with Rusty Wallace and Tony Stewart during first-round qualifying Friday night to win the pole for the Exide 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race.
Skinner turned a fast lap at 125.465 mph around the three-quarter-mile oval for his fourth career pole and second this season.
Skinner's lap came immediately after Stewart, a rookie, knocked Wallace from the top spot with a lap at 125.325. Wallace had posted a lap at 125.244 to edge Bobby Labonte aside for the top spot just before Stewart's solid run.
Labonte's lap of 125.104 came from the fourth of 48 spots in the qualifying order, when Richmond International Raceway was still bathed in sunlight and giving up little in speed. It didn't change until Wallace went, 23 drivers later.
"When Bobby put that number up, I didn't know if I could run that or not," Skinner said, "but I'd been watching a cloud up there for about 30 minutes."
The cloud moved into position blocking the sun just in time, and Wallace, Stewart and Skinner all made good use of its cooling effect on the asphalt.
Later, Dale Earnhardt Jr., driving like a veteran against one of the best, passed Mark Martin with seven laps to go and outraced the Winston Cup star to win the Autolite Platinum 250 Busch Grand National race by .548 seconds.
Around the tracks
* Bryan Herta took the provisional pole for Sunday's CART FedEx Series Shell 300 with a lap of 117.903 mph on the 2.238-mile, nine-turn Laguna Seca natural terrain road course in Monterey, Calif. Tony Kanaan was close behind Herta at 117.210.
* Chad Brachmann (20-lap sportsman), Mark Schulz (20-lap pro stock) and Alex Morris (first street stock feature) won their respective races and track championships at Ransomville. John Schultz won the second street stock feature and Brian Stevens captured the 20-lap modified in the non-winners race.