Newman To Start 17Th In Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – New track, rookie driver, first-time pole winner.

Jason Leffler enjoyed the biggest moment of his racing career Friday at Kansas Speedway, winning the pole for the Protection One 400 in one of the biggest upsets of the season.

Ryan Newman and the ALLTEL Team Penske crew will start Sunday's race 17th.

Leffler’s lap of 176.499 mph was good enough to beat NASCAR Winston Cup points leader Jeff Gordon and the rest of the field. Leffler hadn’t qualified higher than 11th in 22 previous races of his rookie season, one filled with plenty of struggles. Last week at Dover, Leffler wasn’t fast enough to make the race.

But Friday, Leffler’s Chip Ganassi Racing team put it all together, leading a contingent of Dodges at the front of the field.

“I hit my marks and tried to get a real smooth lap,” Leffler said. “We’ve got a real good car. It’s hooked up and has been real comfortable from the time we unloaded. It sure helps after last week.”

Gordon ended up second at 176.304 mph, followed by three Dodges: Bill Elliott, Stacy Compton and Elliott’s Evernham Motorsports teammate Casey Atwood.

Johnny Benson qualified sixth, with Tony Stewart seventh. Ricky Rudd, who is chasing Gordon in the battle for the Winston Cup title, qualified eighth. Ricky Craven and Bobby Labonte rounded out the Top 10.

Gordon had been fastest in Friday’s practice but couldn’t back it up for qualifying. Gordon has a 212-point lead over Rudd after losing 10 points last weekend.

Stewart is third in the points, 200 behind Rudd but only nine ahead of Dale Jarrett and 72 ahead of Sterling Marlin.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., last week’s winner at Dover Downs International Speedway, qualified 18th.

Leffler hadn’t qualified in the Top 10 in 22 previous races of his rookie year. After missing the race last week, Leffler had failed to qualify three times in 2001. And the finishes haven’t been much better. Leffler claims a 13th as his best result, and that was at Dover, of all places, in June.

Leffler has failed to finish six races in 2001, ending up outside the Top 20 a total of 17 times.

In the midst of all the struggles, Leffler’s sponsor announced it was joining another team in 2002, leaving Leffler’s future in question.

Leffler moved to NASCAR two years ago, racing for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Busch Series last year. He won three poles in 2000 and was being groomed for a Winston Cup effort in the future. But Ganassi came calling, and Leffler couldn’t turn the offer down.

Another rookie, Kurt Busch, slipped in Turn 2 and slapped the wall. Busch had been fifth fastest in practice.

Rick Mast, Kyle Petty and Ron Hornaday failed to qualify for the race.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

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