Martinsville, Va. Ryan Newman must be close to perfect the rest of the way to win the Nextel Cup championship, and he took a positive step by grabbing the Subway 500 pole Friday at Martinsville Speedway.
"It's a good start to the entire weekend," said Newman, ninth among 10 drivers and 271 points behind series leader Kurt Busch halfway through NASCAR's 10-race playoff.
Newman needs strong finishes in the final five races. Like six of the other drivers in the title chase, Newman can't contend without bad finishes by Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, who have been turning the competition into a three-way battle.
"We're looking for places to make up major ground because we need that now," Newman said. "We're not out of the championship by any means."
Newman led the way on the newly resurfaced oval where 17 drivers broke the qualifying record. He turned a lap at 97.043 mph to win his series-high seventh pole of the season, breaking Tony Stewart's four-year-old mark of 95.371. Newman's Dodge will be joined on the front row by that of teammate Rusty Wallace, who qualified for Sunday's Subway 500 at 96.234.
The Chevrolets of Earnhardt and Ward Burton make up the second row, followed by Travis Kvapil in a Dodge and Scott Riggs' Chevy.
Busch, Earnhardt and Newman are the only drivers in contention for the championship who will start in the top 10. Gordon, 74 points behind Busch, will start 15th.
Elliott Sadler, fourth among the chasers, will start 33rd.