Rockingham, N.C. Brian Vickers was hoping to win two poles in one day, even with Ryan Newman lurking Friday at the end of the qualifying line.
Vickers, a 20-year-old rookie who already had won the pole for today's Busch Series race, put up the fastest lap early in the qualifying session for Sunday's Winston Cup event at North Carolina Speedway, the Pop Secret 400
Vickers was standing in the pits on the backstretch of the 1.017-mile oval when Newman, the last of 46 drivers in line, drove his Penske Racing South Dodge onto the track.
"I was standing with Bobby Hamilton Jr. and saw Ryan come off the second turn like a rocketship and I said, 'Whew, we're not going to be on the pole today,'" Vickers said.
He was right.
Newman took his third consecutive pole, second straight for the Pop Secret 400 and 11th of the season.
Newman beat Vickers by 0.011 seconds.
Newman's lap of 155.577 mph was just enough to push the Chevrolet of Vickers to the outside of the front row for the second straight week. Vickers, making only his fourth Winston Cup start, had a lap of 155.505.
"Ryan Newman," Vickers said, shaking his head. "That's twice he's knocked me off the pole by a couple of thousandths. I guess two poles in one day was just asking for too much."
It was just another day at the office for Newman.
"This is a good race car," he said of his No. 12 Intrepid. "It's done a lot of good things for us this year. I'm just a lucky guy to sit behind the wheel and steer it."
Series leader Matt Kenseth, who can wrap up his first Winston Cup championship Sunday, will start 22nd in the 43-car field.
He goes into the race 228 points ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and needs only to be leading by 186 after the race to win his first title. If not, he'll have another chance to win it in the season finale Nov. 16 in Homestead, Fla.
"I guess compared to where we've been qualifying, that's really great," said Kenseth, who turned 37th-place starts in the last two races into finishes of 11th and sixth. "I'd be more stressed out, I guess, if I was behind and trying to chip away all the time, but it feels good to be where we're at."
Earnhardt, coming off a win last Sunday at Phoenix, qualified a disappointing 26th at 153.567. Jimmie Johnson, 241 points behind Kenseth and also with a mathematical chance to overtake the leader, qualified 18th at 153.974.
Kenseth has carved out his big lead with consistency, overcoming generally poor qualifying efforts to turn in 10 top-fives, including one win, and 24 top-10s in 34 races this season.
Newman has a series-high eight wins to go with all his poles. But he is fifth in the standings, 329 points behind Kenseth, mostly because of six races that ended in wrecks or mechanical failures.