Tough Time At Lowes For Blaney

CONCORD, N.C. – Maybe Ryan Newman’s run in the Winston Open was no fluke after all.

The rookie planted his Penske Racing South Ford on the Coca-Cola 600 pole, qualifying at 185.217 mph Thursday to blister the rest of the Winston Cup field.

“This is super big,” Newman said. “To be able to have a pole here is great.”

Newman was on his way to a victory in the Winston Open last Saturday night, but his engine blew with two laps to go.

The team brought the same car back, and Thursday night, his engine held together, giving Newman his first Winston Cup pole – in only his third career start.

“It was a great lap for the Alltel Ford,” said Newman, who is due to receive an engineering degree from Purdue in August. “My crew chief, Matt Borland, has done an awesome job giving me a comfortable race car.”

And it was obviously a fast car. He knocked Todd Bodine off the pole by nearly a tenth of a second before Jeff Gordon sped his way to the front row. Newman’s time was 29.155 seconds, beating Gordon’s 29.205.

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.

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 could only hold my breath for one lap,” Gordon said. “The car was tight down in (Turns) 1 and 2, and I knew it was only going to get tighter on the second lap. I gave it my best shot. Ryan Newman deserves it. That was a great lap he ran.”

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

“That was as close to a perfect race car as I’ve ever had qualifying,” Bodine said. “It was on a rail. It was just a little bit tight, but I kind of expected it. It had gotten tighter every run we’ve made in practice. It was pretty good.”

Bill Elliott, the first car to go out, qualified fourth, with Bodine’s teammate, Jimmy Spencer, fifth. Sixth through 10th were: Kevin Harvick, Mike Skinner, Johnny Benson, Ward Burton and Mark Martin.

Dave Blaney and the Amoco Ultimate team struggled in qualifying, having to use a provisional to make the field.

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.

“I was on the bottom (of the track), and before I got back in the gas, the car bottomed out and got me a little bit sideways,” Jarrett said. “I couldn’t correct it.

“Everything’s fine. They build good, safe cars at Robert Yates Racing, thank goodness.”

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, 183.169 mph.

“I’m fairly happy with that lap,” Stewart said. “You don’t know hard you can really run… I probably could have went a little bit harder, but I don’t think I was going to get two-tenths.”

Qualifying began at 9:45 (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.

Elliott was the first car out, turning a lap of 29.282 seconds, nearly six-tenths of a second faster than when he practiced. Of course, practice was held at 3 p.m. in the heat of the day, and the track cooled significantly after the rain.

After three drivers qualified, a brief spurt of rain delayed Mike Wallace’s attempt.

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 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.

Bobby Labonte offered a helicopter ride to Kyle Petty, but Petty couldn’t take a chance.

“Considering where we are in the points and we’ve already missed a couple of races, we just couldn’t take a chance,” Petty said. “If we had been higher in the points, I would have gone, taken a provisional and not thought anything about it.

“I’ve talked to Austin four or five times today. He’s cool with it. I bought him a stereo for his car for graduation, so I guess that’s how I made it up to him.”

Both Petty and his teammate John Andretti failed to make the field.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

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