Concord, N.C. — A rookie revived the youth movement at the Coca-Cola 600 on Thursday night, with 23-year-old Ryan Newman winning the pole for NASCAR's longest race of the year after qualifying was delayed more than two hours by rain.
Newman ran a lap of 185.217 mph around Lowe's Motor Speedway, quick enough to hold off heavyweights like Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace, both of whom qualified after him.
"It's super big for us," Newman said. "I never imagined it, but the weather conditions helped a lot for the speeds and I had a great race car."
Gordon tried his best to knock off Newman, but his speed of 184.900 mph only earned him the second spot.
"I gave it everything I had and just came up second," said Gordon, who won The Winston last Saturday and has started from the pole seven times on the 1.5-mile track.
"Ryan was fast, he put a great lap up there and I knew no one was going to touch it."
Todd Bodine qualified third, followed by Bill Elliott in a Dodge and Jimmy Spencer. Kevin Harvick was sixth, followed by Mike Skinner and Johnny Benson. Ward Burton and Mark Martin rounded out the Top 10.
Newman's pole comes on the heels of Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting from the front last year and Matt Kenseth going on to win the race. Both were rookies.
Earnhardt Jr. qualified 19th on Thursday, and Kenseth needed a provisional to make the field, running the slowest lap of the night at 179.724. He'll start 40th.
Newman, a future Winston Cup teammate of Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield, actually isn't even a rookie this year.
He's not eligible to compete for Rookie of the Year because he's running an "ABC" schedule for Penske Racing South this season competing in a blend of ARCA, Busch and Cup races.
It's all part of the grand plan of team owner Roger Penske, who is grooming Newman to run a full Cup season in 2002. He'd be the third driver on that team, joining Wallace and Mayfield.
"The past year basically we've been on this ladder taking one step at a time and we made a big step here," he said. "But we know it's a really tall ladder and we're just trying to get as many laps in as we can all year."
But he's no stranger to Lowe's Motor Speedway.
He owns the overall track record for speed, qualifying an ARCA car last October at 186.780 mph.
And he competed in The Winston Open last week and was running away from the field before his car blew an engine with three laps to go.
Coca-Cola 600 Qualifying
Thursday qualifying; Sunday race
At Lowe's Motor Speedway
Race distance: 600 miles, 400 laps.
1. (02) Ryan Newman, Ford, 185.217 mph.
2. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 184.900 mph.
3. (66) Todd Bodine, Ford, 184.628 mph.
4. (9) Bill Elliott, Dodge, 184.414 mph.
5. (26) Jimmy Spencer, Ford, 184.244 mph.
6. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 184.225 mph.
7. (31) Mike Skinner, Chevrolet, 184.074 mph.
8. (10) Johnny Benson, Pontiac, 183.842 mph.
9. (22) Ward Burton, Dodge, 183.711 mph.
10. (6) Mark Martin, Ford, 183.536 mph.
11. (77) Robert Pressley, Ford, 183.194 mph.
12. (20) Tony Stewart, Pontiac, 183.169 mph.
13. (44) Buckshot Jones, Dodge, 183.150 mph.
14. (96) Andy Houston, Ford, 183.144 mph.
15. (33) Bobby Hamilton Jr, Chevrolet, 182.809 mph.
16. (2) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 182.747 mph.
17. (90) Hut Stricklin, Ford, 182.735 mph.
18. (99) Jeff Burton, Ford, 182.667 mph.
19. (8) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 182.648 mph.
20. (32) Ricky Craven, Ford, 182.568 mph.
21. (28) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 182.309 mph.
22. (92) Stacy Compton, Dodge, 182.297 mph.
23. (25) Jerry Nadeau, Chevrolet, 182.242 mph.
24. (18) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 182.094 mph.
25. (01) Jason Leffler, Dodge, 182.063 mph.
26. (40) Sterling Marlin, Dodge, 181.971 mph.
27. (14) Ron Hornaday Jr, Pontiac, 181.849 mph.
28. (15) Michael Waltrip, Chevrolet, 181.812 mph.
29. (50) Rick Mast, Chevrolet, 181.806 mph.
30. (36) Ken Schrader, Pontiac, 181.794 mph.
31. (27) Kenny Wallace, Pontiac, 181.726 mph.
32. (4) Kevin Lepage, Chevrolet, 181.677 mph.
33. (11) Brett Bodine, Ford, 181.537 mph.
34. (12) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, 181.409 mph.
35. (19) Casey Atwood, Dodge, 181.226 mph.
36. (5) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 181.117 mph.
37. (88) Dale Jarrett, Ford, Provisional.
38. (1) Steve Park, Chevrolet, Provisional.
39. (55) Bobby Hamilton, Chevrolet, Provisional.
40. (17) Matt Kenseth, Ford, Provisional.
41. (21) Elliott Sadler, Ford, Provisional.
42. (97) Kurt Busch, Ford, Provisional.
43. (93) Dave Blaney, Dodge, Provisional. Failed to qualify
44. (43) John Andretti, Dodge, 180.995 mph.
45. (45) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 180.451 mph.
46. (37) Derrike Cope, Pontiac, 180.379 mph.
47. (7) Mike Wallace, Ford, 179.922 mph.
48. (85) Carl Long, Ford, 179.724 mph.
49. (54) Jeff Fultz, Ford, 179.874 mph.