Dont Count Newman Out

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Dale Jarrett’s hopes to win a second NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship went by the wayside quite some time ago.

But that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t have a lot at stake during the remaining five races of the 2002 season. He can still make up quite a few spots in the points standings, but he can also lose a few as well. That’s what makes this Sunday’s Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway so crucial. On a short-track like Martinsville (.596 miles), anything can happen, as Jarrett, who qualified 15th Friday, knows.

Ryan Newman won the pole for Sunday’s race with a fast lap of 92.837 mph. Jeff Gordon qualified second, followed by Bill Elliott, Ward Burton, Rusty Wallace, Joe Nemechek, Jimmie Johnson, Hermie Sadler, Mike Skinner and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

With five races left, Tony Stewart leads the Winston Cup standings by 97 points over Johnson and by 122 points over Mark Martin. Fourth-place Rusty Wallace is still hanging around, 157 points back, while Newman is fifth, 165 points behind.

The pole was Newman's fourth of the season. Gordon appeared to have the pole locked up until Newman knocked him off very late in the qualifying session.

"Gordon has had the pole for the first three half-mile race tracks - two at Bristol and one here at Martinsville, I think," Newman said. "Knocking him off the pole here was pretty big. I'm happy we did it and happy for ALLTEL."

When Newman posted his qualifying number, a tremendous roar came up from the crowd, but Newman didn't hear it.

"My dad came down and said, 'You should have heard the applause.' That's cool," Newman said. " It's good to be here. The track is a little different, but it's the same for everybody and we're just out there trying as hard as we can.

"It's kind of a half and half deal. The driver's got to have finesse for the what the race car's got grip for and (crew chief) Matt (Borland) and the guys just did an awesome job. They brought a great race car and that part of it was pretty good today."

Jarrett, who hasn’t finished lower than fifth in the points standings since coming to Robert Yates Racing in 1995, is currently 11th. Ironically, he’s chasing lame-duck teammate Ricky Rudd for the 10th position and is 38 points behind Rudd.

Realistically, Jarrett can finish no higher than seventh in the points. Matt Kenseth is currently seventh, 103 points ahead of Jarrett.

“We aren’t in contention for the championship at this point, but we are in contention to get into the top 10 and that's important to me and to this team,” Jarrett said. “We’d like to be able to get into the top five but I think that's going to be hard at this point. Still, Martinsville is one of those places that has been good for us.

“If we can stay out of trouble, we should be able to gain some ground in the points chase. Ricky and the No. 28 team tested there a few weeks ago and he thought the track was a little slick with the new surface. We’re definitely looking forward to Martinsville because we’ve got a great race set-up for that place and have high expectations going into this weekend.”

Martinsville has been a haven for Jarrett over the past few years. In the last 10 Winston Cup races there, the driver of the No. 88 UPS Ford has finished outside the Top 10 just once (42nd in the 1998 fall race when the camshaft on his car broke).

The last 10 races at Martinsville have produced one victory (the spring of 2001), five top-fives and nine top-10s. Last fall, he battled Ricky Craven side-by-side in the final laps before Craven prevailed to earn his first career Winston Cup Series victory.

It’s the final short track event of the Winston Cup Series season, and Jarrett wants to make the most out of it.

“I think we’re at that point in the season where everyone is looking forward to the end just because we’ve been on a long stretch of races,” Jarrett said. “Martinsville is our last short-track race of the season.

“This race could be real important for those guys who are contending for this championship just because it’s one of those places where you really don’t have a lot of control of the outcome. You can get caught up in an accident whether you’re leading or whether you’re in the middle of the pack just because it’s a short track and lapped traffic becomes an issue fast.”

Gordon could be a major factor on Sunday. He’s sixth in the championship standings, 211 points behind Stewart, but he knows how to win at Martinsville, having been to victory lane here three times previously.

“What’s helped me at a place like this (Martinsville) or Bristol, is that it’s just the type of racing I grew up doing – a lot of short track and sprint car racing. Racing on so many different types of tracks as a kid has helped me learn and adapt to tracks like Martinsville.

In the spring race at Martinsville, Gordon finished 23rd and it was only the second time he has finished outside the top 12 in 19 career Winston Cup races here. Overall, he has three wins, two poles, 10 top-fives and 14 top-10 finishes.

Provisionals were awarded to: Michael Waltrip, Kyle Petty, Elliott Sadler, John Andretti, Geoffrey Bodine (substituting for Kenny Wallace, who's in Memphis with his Busch team), Steve Grissom and Hideo Fukuyama.

Brian Rose, Carl Long, Morgan Shepherd, Ryan McGlynn and Kirk Shelmerdine failed to make the race.

The green flag is scheduled to fall on the 500-lap Old Dominion 500 shortly after 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

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