Rocket Ryan Takes 600 Pole

CONCORD, N.C. – Ryan Newman shocked the Winston Cup world Thursday night, speeding to the pole for one of NASCAR’s biggest races, the Coca-Cola 600 – in his third Cup start.

But if you expect him to jump up and down and scream and holler in celebration, don’t. Newman is an engineer, cool and calculating. The 23-year-old rookie showed little emotion moments after winning his first career Cup pole.

“I don’t think there’s any rules for (celebrating),” Newman said. “Maybe I’ll show more emotion when I’m back with my crew because we know what we accomplished together. I’ve won poles before. At the same time, this is the Coke 600. I guess overall I’m not a person who shows much emotion.”

Newman qualified his Penske Racing South Ford at 185.217 mph, beating another former sprint-car driver, Jeff Gordon, by nearly a tenth of a second. Todd Bodine was third, with Bill Elliott fourth and Jimmy Spencer fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Kevin Harvick, Mike Skinner, Johnny Benson, Ward Burton and Mark Martin.

Newman, the 1999 USAC Sprint Car Rookie of the Year, was signed by Roger Penske to drive stock cars. He’s doing selected ARCA, Busch and Winston Cup races this year in preparation for a full Cup schedule next year.

Newman – who holds the stock-car track record of 186.780 mph, set last year in an ARCA car – fell short of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Winston Cup record of 186.034.

The car he qualified Thursday was the same car he used in the ARCA race last year. It’s also the same one he ran last Saturday in the Winston Open, when Newman came within two laps of winning that race before his engine gave way.

“It’s definitely a fast race car, and obviously I like this race track,” Newman said. “I really, really like this race track. Coming from my background, I drive it a little different than most drivers.”

Newman made his Winston Cup debut last year at Phoenix, starting 10th and finishing 41st. He started 35th and ended up 33rd at Las Vegas earlier this year.

Gordon ran only one qualifying lap, shutting his engine down after a lap of 184.900.

“I don’t know where we could’ve picked up too much more,” Gordon said. “Ryan did an excellent job. That team tested here, and Ryan’s quite a talent.”

Gordon and Bodine are two of five drivers eligible for Winston’s $1 million bonus if they win Sunday.

“We needed a good qualifying run to start toward the front on Sunday,” Bodine said. “There is a million dollars up for grabs.”

Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett spun and hit the wall in Turn 4 as he was coming to the green flag. His car started getting loose in Turn 3, and the back end kept coming around. The left rear of his Ford made heavy impact with the outside wall, but Jarrett was OK.

“It was on the very bottom in (Turn) 3, and it bottomed out right there and got me a little sideways,” Jarrett said. “I just couldn’t correct it from there.”

Jarrett will start 37th in Sunday’s race, taking his first provisional of the season.

Tony Stewart, trying to complete the Indianapolis 500/Coca-Cola 600 double Sunday, qualified safely in the field at 12th. Stewart may start at the rear of the field anyway if he misses the drivers meeting while he’s en route from Indy.

“We still wanted to run good and run strong, even though we know we’re going to have to go to the back,” Stewart said. “The first thing is just to get in so we didn’t have to use a provisional.”

Buckshot Jones was the only Petty Enterprises car to make the field, qualifying 13th in a Dodge. John Andretti qualified 38th and Kyle Petty 41st, with Andretti missing a provisional by seven points. Dave Blaney got the final provisional because he’s seven points ahead of Andretti in the car owner standings.

It’s the first time the No. 43 car failed to qualify since July 1994, at Loudon, N.H., when Wally Dallenbach was the driver.

Qualifying began at 9:45 p.m. (ET), two-and-a-half hours after it was scheduled. A brief shower delayed the start, then the sun came out. But a heavy downpour ended hopes for a quick turnaround.

Terry Labonte was supposed to qualify first after he asked NASCAR to take that spot so he could attend his daughter’s graduation. Kristy Labonte – and Kyle Petty’s son Austin – graduated from Trinity (N.C.) High School, which is about an hour’s drive from Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

But when the rains came, Labonte hopped on a helicopter and flew to Trinity. He made it back to the track after 10 p.m., in plenty of time to make his qualifying attempt. He ended 36th, the last car to make the field on speed.

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