Avondale, Ariz. Ryan Newman won his 10th pole of the season Friday, adding to his reputation as one of the best qualifiers in Winston Cup history.
This time, Newman put his Penske Racing South Dodge at the front of the field for Sunday's event at Phoenix International Raceway. He beat a three-car effort by Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets.
Newman's fast lap in qualifying for the Checker Auto Parts 500 was 133.675 mph. That was just quick enough to keep 20-year-old Brian Vickers -- making only his third Winston Cup start -- from becoming the youngest driver to win a pole in NASCAR's top stock car series.
Vickers' fast lap on the one-mile oval was 133.640, and his time was just 0.007 seconds slower than Newman.
"I was really (going) pretty good," Newman said. "Brian really laid on a pretty good lap and I didn't know how much was left out there. Not much, I guess."
Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, Vickers' Hendrick teammates, weren't far behind the top two. Johnson had a lap at 133.581. Gordon, a winner of the races at Atlanta and Martinsville, Va., the last two weeks, went 133.417.
Bill Elliott was the last driver to win more than nine poles in the series, starting from the front 11 times in 1985. Cale Yarborough won 14 poles in 1980, the most in Winston Cup history.
Bobby Isaac set the overall mark with 20 in 1969, when there were considerably more races run each year in the pre-Winston Cup era.
Newman has competed in just 78 events, but already has 17 poles, including three in his last four tries. The first of those came in 2001, when he drove in just seven races. There were six more in 2002, when he was Rookie of the Year in his first full season.
"I've watched qualifying the last two years and seen how frustrated some of these drivers get with Ryan Newman," Vickers said. "I'm starting to feel it. We were so close."
Newman gives much of the credit for his performance to crew chief Matt Borland and the rest of the team on his No. 12 Intrepid.
"The team gives me great cars and great opportunities to be up on the front row and I just have to go out and get it done for them," Newman said. "It doesn't get old and it always will be a great confidence builder for the whole team."
Johnson said Newman's ability in time trials had changed the way many teams approached qualifying.
"I think it's put more importance on it for everyone," Johnson said. "Ryan has really raised the bar and track position and pit road are so important, we really work to be in the top five."
Everybody had to make adjustments Friday. The wall in the second turn has been moved out 12 feet in an effort to promote more side-by-side racing, and new pavement has been laid down in turn four, where a tunnel was built to the infield.
"It's not a huge difference," Johnson said. "It's just enough that you have to do a little work to get it right."
Rusty Wallace, Newman's teammate, was fifth at 133.151, followed by series champion Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, both at 133.057. Dave Blaney, rookie Casey Mears and Joe Nemechek completed the top 10.
Points leader Matt Kenseth, the defending race winner but not known for his qualifying ability, had another bad day. His Roush Racing Ford will start 37th in the 43-car field.
"We ran OK at times today, but we just don't have the speed," Kenseth said. "I'm doing everything I can and I don't feel that bad. We just don't go anywhere, so we'll just have to wear them down in the race like we've been doing."