Newman Wins Eighth Pole of NASCAR Season

Friday, October 10th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) _ Winning on the race track is the best way Ryan Newman and his team can answer allegations of cheating.

Newman won his Winston Cup series-leading eighth pole of the season Thursday night, setting a new track record in qualifying for the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

He also has a series-best eight victories this season, prompting grumbling from competitors over alleged cheating by the Penske Racing South team.

With a huge smile on his face, Newman seemed to have turned a deaf ear to it.

``There's nothing wrong with grinning when you're winning,'' Newman said.

Driver after driver posted their qualifying laps for Saturday night's race with few expectations of any of the top speeds holding up through Newman's late run.

Jeff Gordon held down the top spot for most of the session, but was bumped when Newman set a new track record with a lap at 186.657 mph in the No. 12 Dodge.

``We unloaded off the truck really, really fast and expected to go even faster,'' Newman said. ``I gave everything I had the second lap and I really had to hang on.''

Gordon ran a lap at 186.207 to qualify second in a Chevrolet. Jimmie Johnson, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, qualified third at 185.497 mph.

Because Gordon was one of the drivers to question Newman last weekend when he won in Kansas, Newman had to have taken some satisfaction in knocking him off the pole.

``We're happy we beat everybody,'' Newman said.

Newman also won the pole here for the Coca-Cola 600 in May, but finished fifth when the race was called because of rain.

The victory actually went to Johnson, who added it to the win he earned the week before in The Winston. He'll try to become the first driver to win all three races at Lowe's in the same season on Saturday night, when he competes in the same car he used to win the Coca-Cola 600.

But all anyone wanted to talk to him about was Newman's run of success.

``The way our sport works is it's all about the last time you were on the race track,'' Johnson said. ``And the last time we were on the track, Ryan won the race and then he won the pole. That's the nature of our sport.''

Bill Elliott qualified fourth in a Dodge and Kevin Lepage was fifth in a Pontiac.

Tony Stewart was sixth and Elliott Sadler, Todd Bodine, Kevin Harvick and Mike Skinner rounded out the top 10.

Series points leader Matt Kenseth had yet another poor qualifying run, coming in at 29th in the No. 17 Ford. Consecutive poor finishes have sliced Kenseth's lead to 259 points over Harvick with six races remaining.

``We smell blood,'' Harvick said. ``The last couple of weeks have definitely intensified in our organization. You can start to trace the trails of blood, but we still have a long way to go to find the kill.''

But Kenseth insisted he'll be fine.

``It doesn't do any good to worry about it,'' he said. ``We'll just go out and do the best we can from here on forward. I'm looking forward to Saturday night. Hopefully we can get up front and have a chance to win the thing.''