Newman hopeful of a pole vault

Saturday, November 6th 2004, 12:10 pm
By: News On 6

Ryan Newman will start first Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, but the No. 12 team has yet to visit Victory Lane this season when starting on the pole.

Ryan Newman has been unable to transform his pole-winning prowess on Friday into a runaway victory on Sunday in NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series.

"It's just stats," Newman said with a shrug Friday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway, where both track and personal history will be working against him during the Checker Auto Parts 500. Newman bagged his series-leading ninth Bud Pole of 2004, fourth in a row and third consecutive at PIR when he toured the relatively flat, 1-mile trioval in 26.499 seconds/135.854 mph.

Newman's hot lap hammered Penske Racing South teammate Rusty Wallace's track record lap of 26.830 seconds/134.178 mph set Nov. 3, 2000, and also locked up the Bud Pole Award for most poles for a third consecutive season.

But Newman will start Sunday's 500-kilometer/312-mile/312-lap race facing these daunting facts:

No Cup pole-winner ever has won a race at PIR in 16 starts, a streak dating to 1988.

Newman has gone winless in the previous eight races he has started on pole this season.

"Whether it's on Friday or Sunday, it's just stats," said Newman, seventh place among the 10 drivers competing for the inaugural Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup despite his Friday heroics. "It's not necessarily disappointing. But we wish we could have capitalized on having the fastest race car."

For the second consecutive year, Newman's fast race car relegated Brian Vickers to second on the starting grid. A Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate, Vickers earned the No. 2 spot with a lap at 26.890 seconds/133.879 mph.

The difference on the stopwatch from first to second was 0.391 of a second.

"Last time I think we missed it by seven-thousandths of a second," said Vickers, driver of the No. 25 Chevrolet fielded by Hendrick Motorsports. "I felt I got everything I could out of the car. But I don't know where they got that speed or that grip.

"Looking back at the last couple of weeks, Ryan Newman has got something figured out for qualifying. Whatever it is, it doesn't work in the race. So we're not as concerned about the race. For qualifying, we'd better get our stuff together. Not only have we not found it, but 42 other people haven't found it."

Newman, driver of the No. 12 Dodge, trails championship leader Kurt Busch by 186 points -- on the fringe of being out of contention under NASCAR's point-scoring system. His earlier consecutive poles at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., have produced a best finish of third (Martinsville).

That flat, half-mile facility is similar to PIR, where Newman's top finish in four starts was third last year.

But Newman finished 14th and 17th, respectively, on the sister 1.5-mile Lowe's and AMS layouts, denting his design on the title.

"I don't think there's a specific weakness or weaknesses," said Newman, whose most recent series victory was scored on the high-banked, 1-mile Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sept. 26 -- Race No. 2 of the 10-event Chase. "I think some of it is just variables. We've had some bad luck. Looking back at Charlotte, the first of the poles, we had a car capable of winning and got caught up in a wreck with Brendan Gaughan and Jimmy Spencer.

"At Atlanta, we struggled with the balance a little bit and had to come in with a tire that was out of balance. Outside variables that you can't eliminate. Hopefully, we don't run into these things this time."

Busch, who has a 59-point lead over Jimmie Johnson with three races remaining, will start 28th after lapping at 131.675 mph in the No. 97 Ford.

Johnson, winner of three consecutive races, qualified the No. 48 Chevy 13th at 132.876 mph.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the defending race champion, qualified 14th at 132.836 mph in the No. 8 Chevy.

The remainder of the 10 Chase candidates were led by Tony Stewart, sixth at 133.432 mph in the No. 20 Chevy; four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, eighth at 133.116 mph in the No. 24 Chevy; Elliott Sadler, ninth at 133.111 mph in the No. 38 Ford; reigning series champion Matt Kenseth, 16th at 132.548 mph in the No. 17 Ford; Mark Martin, 22nd at 132.105 mph in the No. 6 Ford and Jeremy Mayfield, 24th at 131.965 mph in the No. 19 Dodge.


The Chase

Three races remain in the Chase for the Nextel Cup as the series visits Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., this weekend. The top 10 in points: