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When the green flag drops to start the MBNA Gold 400, Rusty Wallace might take off and establish a substantial lead.

But no one should be mistaken about his intentions. He'll be doing what every driver knows is necessary at Dover Downs International Speedway.

The other 42 cars in today's race (12:30, TNN) will not be the immediate competition for the polesitter. What Wallace will need to concern himself with is The Monster Mile.

"You have to race the track and the track changes," Wallace said. "It generally gets tighter as the day goes on and you have to keep up with it, keep making changes throughout the race."

Wallace, seeking a career milestone 50th victory and fourth on the high-banked oval, knows attrition and late-race problems might mean those who were strong at the start might not be in contention at the end.

"You don't know who the real competition is until late in the race," he said. "Bobby Labonte didn't think he had a chance to win the last time we were here, but he did."

After suffering though some difficult times with ill-handling and unreliable cars the past two seasons, the 1989 Winston Cup champion is starting to show some of the qualities that made him one of the most dominant cars just a few seasons ago.

The pole today, the result of a track-record qualifying speed of 159.964 mph, is the second in a row for Wallace. He dominated the first half of the Dura Lube 300 a week ago in New Hampshire, but wound up sixth.

Even with most of the agonizing problems of the past little more than a bad memory now, Wallace still doesn't run strong near the end.

"The handling goes away, and we know it," Wallace said. "We used to have trouble qualifying and then run great, and now we're qualifying well and not running like we want.

"We're trying to figure it out. We're trying new shocks and springs, and we're working on it very hard."

In Saturday's MBNA Gold 200, Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashed into a dominating Matt Kenseth, and Casey Atwood made the best of it, winning the crash-filled Busch Grand National race.

Because Kenseth was unable to continue, Earnhardt picked up 10 valuable points in their battle for the series title. Earnhardt finished 33rd, and now leads by 113 points with five of 32 races remaining.

Atwood, with fresher tires, took the lead from two-time former series champion Randy LaJoie on the 192nd of 200 laps and held on to win by three car-lengths for his second career victory, both this season.

Montoya earns seventh pole

HOUSTON -- There's nothing conservative about Juan Montoya.

The 23-year-old CART rookie drove his car right to the edge Saturday, winning the pole for today's Texaco Grand Prix of Houston (4 p.m., Ch. 7).

"I was close to the wall a couple of times, but I wasn't thinking about being conservative," said Montoya, who added a point to his series lead over Dario Franchitti and now leads by 29 going into today's 100-lap race.

Montoya outdueled Bryan Herta -- a winner two weeks ago at Monterey, Calif. -- and Team Kool Green teammates Paul Tracy and Franchitti on Saturday to earn his seventh pole of the season. That matched the CART rookie record set in 1993 by Nigel Mansell, who came to the American open-wheel series after winning the Formula One championship.

Around the tracks

Hometown driver Sam Schmidt will start from the pole in today's Indy Racing League 500 (2:30, ESPN 2). Schmidt turned a fast lap of 209.485 mph in his G Force-powered Oldsmobile Aurora over two qualifying runs on the 1.5-mile tri-oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his first career pole. Greg Ray, who qualified fourth in 208.365 mph, has 246 points and can clinch the series title and earn a $1 million bonus if he leaves Las Vegas with 12 more points.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen drove his Jordan to the pole position for today's European Grand Prix in Nuerburgring, Germany. Seeking to close the gap in the drivers' standings and to gain his second consecutive victory, Frentzen beat the two McLaren-Mercedes drivers, David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen.

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