Like a flash in the sky, the "soft launch" debut at Lowe's Motor Speedway yesterday, came and went bye bye in a matter of a split second. Bill drove the car well in practice with consistent lap times that put him mid-pack. But at the lottery draw for qualifying slots, No. 83 got picked early (fourth). In NASCAR, early qualifying puts the team at a disadvantage as teams later on the grid get feedback on track conditions in order to make adjustments. Bill posted a 29.131 lap time in his two-lap run, averaging 185.37 mph. Decent, but everyone in the team hauler knew it was going to be close. You see, NASCAR has these funny qualifying rules. 43 cars make a field, but 35 are guaranteed in based on current year points standings. So someone like Jeff Gordon, who posted a time slower than Bill at 29.492, still gets in the field because he sits in the top 10 in points. And if a past champion doesn't make the field based on time, then the 43rd spot goes to the most recent past champion. In this case, Terry Labonte, who ran .195 sec. slower than Bill, got the nod for the final 43rd spot. Labonte won his Cup championship in 1996 and Bill won his in 1988. So in effect, Bill lost the spot by 8 years, not .196 sec. So, the team packed up the hauler and returned to the shop, ready to take another shot at it in Atlanta in two weeks. All the reason, yesterday was a "soft launch." It's all about getting ready for 2007.