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CHARLOTTE POLE CONFIRMS BODINE'S RACING REBIRTH

Geoff Bodine gave his rejuvenated race team another boost Wednesday night by edging Bobby Labonte to win the pole for the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

"I've won a lot of big races and I've won a lot of poles, but I'll tell you, this pole tonight means as much as anything does," said Bodine, an independent owner-driver whose cash-strapped team nearly closed its doors this summer.

Jim Mattei, a Dallas-based venture capitalist, purchased a majority interest in the team in August, and the team has rebounded with three top-10 finishes in its last eight events.

Bodine guided his Ford Thunderbird to a fast lap of 184.256 mph on Wednesday night, giving him his 36th career pole but his first since Sept. 16, 1994, at Dover, Del., a stretch of 92 races.

"We're getting this thing turned around," Bodine said. "I told everyone it would take a couple months, and it's been a couple months. This is a really big boost for this team."

Labonte, who went out on Charlotte's 1.5-mile, high-banked oval about 20 minutes before Bodine, posted a 183.742 in his Pontiac Grand Prix.

Mark Martin, who trails Jeff Gordon by 135 points in the driver standings with five races left on the 1997 schedule, will start third in Sunday's 500-mile event after a 183.673 mph lap in a Ford.

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