Ryan Newman, one of two drivers from Stewart-Haas Racing who are in prime position to make the Chase for the Cup and contend for the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, will be on the pole tonight for the Irwin Tools Night Race at venerable Bristol Motor Speedway.
Newman recorded the fastest qualifying time for race 24 of the 26 regular-season Cup races, speeding around the half-mile Bristol short-track at 122.811 mph to garner his second pole of the season and 48th of his career, which places him tenth on the Sprint Cup all-time list.
While the 33-year-old driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet was the fastest during qualifying, his teammate and team co-owner Tony Stewart was the slowest and will start 42nd in the 43-car starting lineup tonight at Bristol. That's not good news for two-time Sprint Cup champion Stewart, who is hanging on to the tenth and final automatic-qualifier position in the Chase points standings.
Commenting on the sharp contrast between the two Stewart-Haas cars in the qualifying session, Newman said, "I think it's one of those deals where you spend time overnight regrouping," he said. "I felt our car was pretty good in race trim. Obviously it worked good in qualifying trim. You don't ever want to see the cars that far apart, whether it's the setups or results because of a setup change."
Stewart has a 14-point lead over 11th-place Clint Bowyer, who will start in the eighth row at Bristol in 16th position. Both drivers are still looking for their first Cup win of the season. Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan., had the fourth fastest car in Friday's Happy Hour practice session.
"It's a very important weekend. Big three weeks in a row here for us trying to get ourselves in the Chase," Bowyer said. The No. 33 Chevrolet has had some decent runs as of late, which Bowyer says gives him a lot of confidence going into the next three races that his Richard Childress Racing team can get the job done.
Newman is currently seventh in points, three better than eighth-place Kurt Busch and 25 ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is just ahead of Stewart in ninth. Newman has one win this season, last month at New Hampshire.
Carl Edwards, who led the points standings for most of the season but fell to fourth after a 36th-place finish last week at Michigan, had the fastest car in Friday's practice session. The Missouri-native (form Columbia) rode that momentum to the No. 2 position on the Bristol starting grid next to Newman.
"(My car, the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford) looks really good, but I think everyone is so close. It is just going to be a track position race," Edwards said. "It's really neat to be that fast in practice, but we still have to go race."
Points leader Kyle Busch, the winner last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, qualified 23rd for tonight's race. He has won four of the previous five races at Bristol.