Archive for Saturday, July 24, 2004

Newman knocks Johnson out of top spot

Earnhardt skips qualifying but plans to start Sunday’s race in New Hampshire

July 24, 2004


— It was payback time for Ryan Newman on Friday at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Newman, the last of 46 drivers to make qualifying attempts, knocked NASCAR Nextel Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson out of the top spot. Johnson displaced Newman in May at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

"I told him that I was going to do my best to get him back," Newman said, grinning after winning his fourth pole of the season and first since March.

But it wasn't easy. Newman's car wiggled badly going through turns one and two on the nearly flat 1.058-mile oval on the first of his two qualifying laps.

"There was a little drama there after the first lap," Newman said. "But we got everything together after that. I'm just glad it was two laps."

Newman's lap of 132.360 mph easily was good to win for the 22nd pole of his 99-race career and third in just six tries here. Johnson, twice a winner here last year, claimed the outside of the front row with a fast lap of 131.984 in a Chevrolet.

"Ryan had a great lap in practice and backed it up with a lot of other good laps," Johnson said. "He was the guy to beat all day."

There was no drama surrounding Johnson teammate Jeff Gordon's bid for a record-tying fifth straight pole.

The four-time Cup champion, a winner of three poles and three races in New Hampshire, drew the first spot in the qualifying line and knew immediately his fast lap of 129.860 wasn't going to be good enough. In fact, the next driver in line, rookie teammate Brian Vickers, was quicker at 129.993.

They wound up 23rd and 24th in the 43-car field for Sunday's Siemens 300.

"It didn't help us drawing the number-one spot, but we already have a problem," Gordon said. "We were just off. We can't really seem to put our finger on it. We just can't get comfortable, and that's certainly not a good lap."

Martin Truex Jr., driving in place of injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., qualified third in a Chevy at 131.660.

Truex, who leads the Busch series standings driving for Earnhardt's Chance 2 Motorsports team, knew his qualifying run would be wiped out. Earnhardt, burned in a crash during a sports car event Sunday, will start the race to earn championship points. The No. 8 car will have to start from the rear of the field because of the driver change.

Earnhardt, second in the standings -- 105 points behind Johnson -- plans to have Truex replace him in the car, probably early in the 300-lap race. In pain and needing more time for burns on his legs and face to heal after a frightening crash last week, Earnhardt sat out Friday's practice and qualifying at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Earnhardt plans to get into his No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet for practice today and will start Sunday's race to earn the NASCAR Nextel Cup championship points before giving up the driver's seat to Truex.

"We just have to wait and see how this plays itself out," Earnhardt said during a news conference Friday, looking a bit uncomfortable with his dressings.

"Unfortunately, after the wreck last weekend, I won't be able to run the entire race," he said. "I'm really disappointed. I've never been in this situation before.

"It's painful to walk around, but what's most comfortable for me is sitting in the race car. This is just an opportunity to give Martin more time and a better opportunity to give us a better finish."

Driving in practice and qualifying Friday served two purposes for Truex, making his Cup debut. It gave him much-needed experience in the car and earned the team a good pit stall for the race.

"We tested here because I was going to drive a Cup race here in September for Chance 2, so I knew I could get in and do a good job and drive it as hard as I could," Truex said.

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