AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The big news Friday at Phoenix
International Raceway was that Ryan Newman did not win the pole
position for the NASCAR Nextel Cup race.
That honor went instead to Jeff Gordon, who posted a speed of
133.675 mph in beating out reigning series champion Kurt Busch's
133.254. Those two will start on the front row Saturday in the
inaugural Subway Fresh 500 -- the first of two races this season at
The situation appeared perfect for Newman, NASCAR's top
qualifier, to grab a pole on the 1-mile Phoenix oval for the fourth
straight time. The driver who has won three poles already this
season and 30 in just 124 career races, was the last of 46 drivers
to make a qualifying attempt.
But Newman's No. 12 Dodge skidded nearly sideways on the second
turn of his second of two qualifying laps and he quickly took his
foot off the gas. Newman's first lap of 132.915 was good enough to
"It wasn't bad,'' Newman said. "We struggled coming to the
green flag and that hurt the first lap. I just tried to get too
much out of it coming off turn two on the second lap and that was
"I'm proud of saving the car, but I'm not proud of what I did.
It's disappointing because we had a shot at winning the pole, but
we'll have more shots.''
Gordon, who won his first Phoenix pole and will now try for his
first Phoenix win, said he expected Newman to knock him off the top
"I was hoping when he beat me it would be by half a second so I
didn't go home thinking I could have done it if I had just done
this or done that,'' Gordon said. "He's been on a such a roll
lately. He was really pushing hard and he was on the pole until he
got loose out there.''
After struggling in practice on Thursday, Gordon was somewhat
surprised to be on top even before Newman went out.
"We were pretty far off,'' Gordon said. "We made some
adjustments to free the car up. That first lap, I was pretty
nervous because the car was real loose. But the tire pressures came
up, the car tightened up a little bit and now I'm sitting here
shocked that we're on the pole.''
Tony Stewart is recovering quickly from
first-degree burns to his right thigh and right elbow he sustained
in a car fire during last Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway.
"The car is pretty comfortable,'' Stewart said Friday after
qualifying sixth at PIR. "It's just getting in and getting out
that's the worst part about it. I'm having a hard time sleeping at
night, but I've been real comfortable (in the car).
"I told the guys I should have just slept in the car all week.
That's the best I've felt.''
Stewart said he's wearing no special padding in the car to
protect the burn on his thigh.
"No, it's halfway to where the seat stops,'' he said. "There's
nothing that's supported right where it is anyway, so we're just
dressing it like we've been dressing it and keep air blowing on
No peace treaty
It's no secret that teammates Rusty Wallace
and Ryan Newman have not been best of friends since their cars
collided last fall during a race at Martinsville Speedway.
Wallace claimed his younger Penske Racing South teammate showed
the former series champion no respect and cost him a victory.
Newman bristled and said he was just trying to win the race
Because Wallace is a co-owner of the team, along with Roger
Penske and Don Miller, there was considerable speculation Wallace
would make an effort to patch up their differences during the
offseason. Instead, the relationship has grown, if anything,
At least part of the problem is their differing racing
philosophies. The 48-year-old Wallace is an old-style,
seat-of-the-pants racer, while 27-year-old Newman is a graduate
engineer who likes to depend on technology and information from his
engineers to set up his cars.
"It's really two separate teams, totally,'' Wallace said
Wallace drives the No. 2 Dodge, while Newman drives the No. 12
Charger and rookie Travis Kvapil, the third member of the Penske
team, races the No. 77 Dodge.
"The 77 and 2 share, every tire pressure, every shock, every
piece,'' Wallace said. "The 12 car is totally off limits. It's
totally a separate team. They're at one end of the shop, and it's
unfortunate. I'm resigned to the fact.
"I'm tired of wearing myself out trying to fix it. I'm just
going to do my deal and drive my guts out and give it everything
I've got. ... I've beat this 12 thing to death forever, and they've
got a whole different train of thought and that's fine.''
Wallace, driving his final full season in Nextel Cup, said
Penske has offered to buy out his share of the team, as well as his
longtime friend Miller's share. But Wallace said the ongoing fuss
with Newman will not play a part in that decision, when he makes
"Again, I want to stress I haven't made that decision,''
Wallace said. "I've got an offer to do that. I lay awake at nights
wondering if that's what I should do.''
Phoenix International Speedway announced Friday
it will build a new grandstand with 14,000 seats and 25 to 28
luxury suites between turns one and two on the 1-mile oval.
Construction on the new grandstand will not begin until after
the Nov. 13 Cup race, but it is scheduled to be completed in time
for next April's race.
It might not change the capacity of about 100,000 at the desert
track because track officials plan to remove several temporary
wooden bleachers now lining the backstretch, as well as in turn
PIR has spent about $50 million on improvements, including a new
tunnel and the energy-absorbing SAFER Barriers, since 2001.
Junior still most popular
With more than 1 million votes cast, Dale Earnhardt Jr. holds the lead in the yearlong Chex NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award.
"I can remember the time when the spring was the time of year
we were talking about reaching 500,000 votes,'' said Sean Foster,
marketing manager for General Mills' Chex brand cereal.
Actual numbers were not announced, but Earnhardt, who has won
the award each of the past two years, is followed in the balloting
at www.mostpopulardriver.com by Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Kevin
Harvick, Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip, Dale
Jarrett, Mark Martin and series points leader Jimmie Johnson.
The voting continues until Nov. 21, the day after the
season-ending race at Homestead.