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Rick Mast remembers thrill of earning first Brickyard 400 pole as if it was yesterday

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It’s trivia time:

Most of us know Jeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994.

But who won the pole for that race?

Dale Earnhardt? Rusty Wallace? Bill Elliott? Gordon?

Nope.

The answer: Rick Mast.

The Brickyard pole was one of only four poles the Rockbridge Baths, Virginia native claimed in his 15-year, 364-race NASCAR Cup career.

And even though he’s been retired from racing for the last 15 years, Mast forever will be known as the driver to take the field to green in NASCAR’s first foray at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Driving the No. 1 Skoal Ford Thunderbird for team owner Richard Jackson, Mast led the first two laps before falling back in the field, eventually finishing 22nd.

Rick Mast won the pole for the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 in the No. 1 Ford.

Qualifying for the pole proved to be almost like a race itself, as 86 cars took part to potentially be a part of NASCAR history and the 43-car field for the Brickyard.

Mast, though, had a secret weapon that played a big part in earning the top spot – four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt.

“I got to know A.J. pretty well because we shared the same sponsor, so I went over and told him what my car was doing and he kind of told me what to expect,” Mast said in a media release. “We made some minor adjustments, and when I made the qualifying lap the car was on a rail. It just stuck.”

Mast qualified early in the first half of the session with a speed of 172.414 mph.

Then came the waiting game as the remainder of the 86 cars gave the pole their best efforts.

“Everybody prepared,” Mast said. “I never saw the total garage area prepare so long for one single lap.

“It used to be that Daytona was a big deal. You’d go down there testing all the time in the winter preparing for that qualifying lap, but it seemed Indy was like that times 10 for two years.”

Even after his qualifying run, Mast still replayed it over and over in his head, making mental check-off notes that he did everything he could to get as much speed out of his race car.

“There are so many unknowns to that place,” Mast said. “You knew the track would change so much and the time we went out wasn’t the best time of the day, but I had no clue if it was going to hold up.

“I remember thinking maybe halfway through the qualifying session when nobody was really coming close to our speed that we might have a shot at it, but we knew better than to let ourselves get up too much hope.”

And then came even more waiting.

“It seemed like it took three days to run all those cars,” Mast said. “Richard (Jackson) was torn all to pieces. He couldn’t sit down, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t talk. He knew what it was all about and what it meant for Skoal and Ford.”

What made Mast’s pole win all the more sweeter for himself, Jackson and the team is they were the new kids on the Ford block for that season and beat out longtime stalwarts that carried the blue oval like Junior Johnson, Robert Yates and Jack Roush. Mast’s team had switched from Oldsmobile to Ford before the 1994 season.

“We were stepping in as a new team in the Ford camp and it was incumbent on me to try to justify Ford’s involvement with us,” Mast said. “I was so wanting to prove ourselves to Ford in some capacity, and when I sat on the pole at Indy it gave me some big satisfaction. It was a very, very big deal in my eyes for Ford to do that and that’s not sugar-coating anything. That’s just the way it was at the time.”

Mast was forced to retire from racing in 2002 after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning that left him confined to a bed for 31 days.

“About three of four years after I retired it started easing up to where now I can breathe it,” Mast said. ”I can be around it and it doesn’t bother me.

“I don’t go into a garage or any confined space or an area that has fumes or stuff like that. I immediately try to get away from it, but at least I can be around it and that’s a lot better than they said it would ever be, so for that I’m very grateful.”

These days, Mast runs his own business, RKM Enviro Clean, which offers cleaning services ranging from hazardous material clean-up to flood recovery services.

But he hasn’t forgotten his racing roots. He still attends races at Richmond and Martinsville when he can.

Mast was reminded in a recent interview that his Brickyard pole wasn’t the only illustrious start of his Cup career.

When asked who sat on the pole for Richard Petty’s last Cup race and Jeff Gordon’s first Cup race, as well as the same race that saw Alan Kulwicki beat Bill Elliott for the championship – all in the 1992 season-ending event – Mast didn’t hesitate.

“You don’t have to guess. You know.”

Yes, it was Mast.

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Points leader Elliott Sadler clinches Xfinity playoff spot after finishing third at Bristol

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Even though he hasn’t won this year, Elliott Sadler earned himself a spot in the Xfinity Series playoffs Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Sadler is the fourth driver to qualify for the playoffs. He joins Ryan Reed, William Byron and Justin Allgaier, who clinched spots through race wins.

The JR Motorsports driver and the series points leader finished third in the Food City 300 for his ninth top five of the year.

“Man, we had a great car,” Sadler told NBCSN. “I hit the wall with like 50 to go. Then I threw my water bottle out and it got in the jack man’s way, messed us up. We’re peaking at the right time.”

Sadler has led the Xfinity Series point standings for the last 10 races and following 20 of the 22 races this year.

Following Sadler in the top five is William Byron (-110), Allgaier (-136), Brennan Poole (-186) and Daniel Hemric (-206).

Brendan Gaughan is on the playoff bubble. He is 43 points above the cutoff line. Ross Chastain is 13th on the playoff grid.

Click here for the point standings.

Results, stats for the Xfinity Series race at Bristol

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Kyle Busch won the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway for his fifth Xfinity Series win of the year.

He led 186 laps and swept all three stages.

Completing the top five were Daniel Suarez, Elliott Sadler, Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for full results.

Kyle Busch wins Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Kyle Busch once again dominated a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, winning Friday night’s Food City 300.

Busch led 186 laps on the way to the win, his fifth Xfinity Series victory of the season.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver fended off the field in a nine-lap shootout following a late caution.

The top five was completed by Daniel Suarez, Elliott Sadler, Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier.

Busch moved one step closer to a sweep of the race week. He won Wednesday’s Camping World Truck Series race. If he wins Saturday’s Cup race, it will be the second time he’s swept all three Bristol races after doing it in 2010.

Just like Wednesday, Busch fought through the field after a mid-race speeding penalty to earn the win.

“At least I didn’t have to come through (the field) in the last stage because everybody was pretty fast there tonight in the last stage,” Busch said. “I don’t know if I would have been able to make it all the way back up through there. Suárez gave us a heck of a run there. I was trying to push hard and he was closing in on us a little bit there before that last caution came out. Once that caution came out everything cooled down and my car wasn’t even close to what it was before, so I don’t know how I held on to it. The car was just so sideways.”

The win is Busch’s 91st in the Xfinity Series.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

MORE: Race Results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Allgaier led twice for 75 laps and earned his sixth top five of the season … Sadler led once for 15 laps and clinched a spot in the playoffs … Ty Dillon earned his second top five of the season and beset finish in 19 starts … Joey Logano bounced back from a flat tire and going to two laps down to finish ninth.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Ryan Reed and Aric Almirola wrecked on Lap 25 after they pinched Spencer Gallagher on the backstretch. Almirola finished 38th. … Reed caused the following caution after damage from the previous wreck cut a tire, sending him into the wall. Reed finished 37th … Brendan Gaughan had one unscheduled pit stop for a tire rub. He was then involved in a crash with 15 to go after being tagged by Jeb Burton, who had lost a tire. He finished 30th … William Byron lost a tire with less than 10 to go and had to pit. He finished 22nd.

NOTABLE: With his win, Busch is nine wins away from reaching 100 Xfinity wins. Busch has said he’ll retire from Xfinity competition once he reaches 100 … Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 13th in his first Xfinity start of the year.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “Two weeks in a row. I know he doesn’t have a lot of race and I like him a lot normally, but right now I’m going to knock the hell out of him. The first time he gave me a flat and the second time he says he blew a tire. If you know you’ve got a tire going then don’t drive underneath somebody. The last couple of weeks I’ve been driven with no respect. We put ourselves back in a decent spot and we’re going to go to Road America and win that sucker.” – Brendan Gaughan after his late wreck with Jeb Burton.

NEXT: Johnsonville 180 at Road America at 3 p.m. ET on Aug. 27 on NBC.

Starting lineup for Cup night race at Bristol

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Erik Jones and Kyle Larson will start on the front row of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC).

Jones starts from his first Cup pole.

Completing the top five are Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Matt Kenseth.

Click here for the starting lineup.