Ryan Newman captured his fourth consecutive pole tonight, for the Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Newman went out late in the session and knocked off rookie Brian Vickers, who had gone out second, and sits atop the grid through 30 cars.
Newman's lap of 135.854 miles per hour bested the rest of the field by two miles per hour to earn his series-high ninth pole of the season and 27th of his career. The hot lap also broke the track qualifying record set by teammate Rusty Wallace in 2000 with a lap of 134.178 mph.
"It was just a fast lap," said Newman. "I have no other explanation other than a lot of hard work went into it."
It is the second consecutive week that Newman has broken the track record proving that when it comes to qualifying no team in the Cup garage has things better figured than the No. 12 Penske Dodge boys. With the top starting spot, Newman clinches the 2004 overall Budweiser Pole Award, winning the award for the most poles for the third season in a row.
"We've got the Bud pole locked up today," said Newman. "That is something that I am very proud of. I know the team is proud of it too. It's spectacular to win four poles in a row. The next thing after that is five I guess. We can finish up with eleven poles again if we do it right."
"The team has done a great job," said Vickers. "Practice went really well we were quick right off the truck.I don't know where they (12 team) got the speed or the grip, that was an amazing lap. We couldn't have got that kind of speed."
Joe Nemechek continues his list of stellar runs this weekend, putting the No. 01 Chevy on the grid in third spot. In the last six events, Nemechek has two poles, four top-three starts, three top-five finishes including a win at Kansas.
"I attribute it to communication," said Nemechek. "I thought I was going to have a great opportunity when I went to qualify because it was cloudy but when I got up there and got lined up the sun came out. You try taking advantage of the shade and the clouds and if you take advantage of it you have great success."
Kasey Kahne was fourth quickest posting a lap of 133.581 mph. The run marks Kahne's 11th top-three start of the season.
"We adjusted air pressures from practice, and we were a little bit freer," said Kahne. "It wasn't that good of a lap. I think the track might have slowed down a little bit, but it was still pretty good. We backed up what we ran in practice. It wasn't the lap we wanted."
Kevin Harvick completes the top five. It is only Harvick's second top five start of the 2004 season.
"We knew it was a real good lap," said Harvick. "The car's been good since we unloaded it. We thought we'd pick up just a little bit, but I screwed that up in turns 3 and 4. I just drifted up a little but too high and had to wait on the throttle that much. And when you're talking about hundredths of a second, it doesn't take that much. It's still a good lap for the GM Goodwrench Chevy."
The rest of the top five contenders in the Chase for the Championship are scattered through the top-22 cars. Jeff Gordon finished eighth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will be 14th on the grid, and Mark Martin 22nd. Just 98 points separate the top five Chase racers as we head into the third to last race of the playoffs.
"I'd much rather be the guy with the pressure and the bullseye on him," said Gordon. "Saying he's the guy leading, he's the guy you've got to beat. That's a much better position to be in than anywhere else in my opinion."
Fifty cars attempted to make the forty-three car field. Failing to make the show were Mike Garvey, Tony Raines, Stanton Barrett, Mario Gooselin, Ryan McGlynn, Geoffrey Bodine and Kirk Shelmerdine.