Stewart aims for Pocono sweep

Updated: August 1, 2009, 12:24 AM ET
Associated Press

LONG POND, Pa. -- Tony Stewart won at Pocono Raceway this season from the rear of the field. He gets to try it this time from the pole.

Rain washed out Sprint Cup qualifying on Friday, putting Stewart on the pole and giving the points leader a shot at sweeping the races on the triangle track from worst and first.

"You don't have to be on the pole to win here," Stewart said. "It's obviously a lot easier if you can start up front and don't have to pass 42 cars to get there. It's not a deal-breaker if you have to start 43rd. We proved that last time."

Qualifying for the June's race at Pocono also was rained out and Stewart was awarded the pole. He wrecked the next day in practice, forcing him to the back of the field. Smoke responded with his first Cup points race victory as owner/driver.

Stewart holds a 192-point lead in the points standings over last week's winner Jimmie Johnson.

"I don't know how I could ask for any more," Stewart said. "I'd love to have five wins like Mark [Martin] has, but other than that, I'm extremely satisfied with what we've done."

Stewart's win at Pocono made him the first owner/driver to win a race since Ricky Rudd at Martinsville in 1998.

Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards round out the top five. Denny Hamlin, Stewart's teammate Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya complete the top 10.

Only 43 teams are at the track, so every car qualifies for Sunday's race.

"I feel like we had a really good car for qualifying," Johnson said. "Second isn't bad at all, but I feel like we had a shot at the pole today."

The steady rain late in the afternoon wiped out the second practice session.

"Does it rain here all the time like this?" Edwards said.

Edwards won the race here last August after waiting out a a 41-minute red flag because of, yup, rain. He hasn't won a Cup race this season after taking the checkered flag nine times last year. Still, Edwards is a comfortable fifth in the Chase for the championship standings and is a near lock to compete for his first championship over the final 10 races.

There are six races left before the Chase kicks off in New Hampshire.

"I'd definitely like to have some wins at this point of the season, but there's nothing you can do about that," Edwards said. "The mission is to make sure we're solidly in the Chase and to make sure the progress we've made with our pit crew and our cars, we can really apply it for the last 10 races."

Stewart recorded his fourth pole of the year. Because he starts from the top spot, Stewart secured the first pit stall on pit road and can earn a quick five-point bonus by leading the first lap. That spot gave the two-time Cup champion a needed break in working his way through the field in June.

"It helped take what should have been an extremely long day and make it a good day," he said.

Stewart brushed off criticism that his first-year Stewart-Haas Racing team has had such instant success because it's nothing more than a Hendrick Motorsports satellite team. Owner Rick Hendrick share engines and technical support with Stewart's crew, which has gone a long way toward catapulting him to the top of the standings.

It's a key reason, but far from the only one for Stewart's smashing success.

"It doesn't matter to any of us what we're called," Stewart said. "Hopefully, at the end of the year they call us champions."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press