Gordon takes Phoenix pole, Newman slides
That honor went instead to Jeff Gordon, who posted a speed of 133.675 mph in beating out reigning series champion Kurt Busch's 133.254. Those two will start on the front row Saturday in the inaugural Subway Fresh 500 -- the first of two races this season at PIR.
The situation appeared perfect for Newman, NASCAR's top qualifier, to grab a pole on the 1-mile Phoenix oval for the fourth straight time. The driver who has won three poles already this season and 30 in just 124 career races, was the last of 46 drivers to make a qualifying attempt.
But Newman's No. 12 Dodge skidded nearly sideways on the second turn of his second of two qualifying laps and he quickly took his foot off the gas. Newman's first lap of 132.915 was good enough to qualify seventh.
"It wasn't bad,'' Newman said. "We struggled coming to the green flag and that hurt the first lap. I just tried to get too much out of it coming off turn two on the second lap and that was it.
"I'm proud of saving the car, but I'm not proud of what I did. It's disappointing because we had a shot at winning the pole, but we'll have more shots.''
Gordon, who won his first Phoenix pole and will now try for his first Phoenix win, said he expected Newman to knock him off the top spot.
"I was hoping when he beat me it would be by half a second so I didn't go home thinking I could have done it if I had just done this or done that,'' Gordon said. "He's been on a such a roll lately. He was really pushing hard and he was on the pole until he got loose out there.''
After struggling in practice on Thursday, Gordon was somewhat surprised to be on top even before Newman went out.
"We were pretty far off,'' Gordon said. "We made some adjustments to free the car up. That first lap, I was pretty nervous because the car was real loose. But the tire pressures came up, the car tightened up a little bit and now I'm sitting here shocked that we're on the pole.''
Tony Stewart is recovering quickly from first-degree burns to his right thigh and right elbow he sustained in a car fire during last Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway.
"The car is pretty comfortable,'' Stewart said Friday after qualifying sixth at PIR. "It's just getting in and getting out that's the worst part about it. I'm having a hard time sleeping at night, but I've been real comfortable (in the car).
"I told the guys I should have just slept in the car all week. That's the best I've felt.''
Stewart said he's wearing no special padding in the car to protect the burn on his thigh.
"No, it's halfway to where the seat stops,'' he said. "There's nothing that's supported right where it is anyway, so we're just dressing it like we've been dressing it and keep air blowing on it.''
No peace treaty
It's no secret that teammates Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman have not been best of friends since their cars collided last fall during a race at Martinsville Speedway.
Wallace claimed his younger Penske Racing South teammate showed the former series champion no respect and cost him a victory. Newman bristled and said he was just trying to win the race himself.
Because Wallace is a co-owner of the team, along with Roger Penske and Don Miller, there was considerable speculation Wallace would make an effort to patch up their differences during the offseason. Instead, the relationship has grown, if anything, colder.
At least part of the problem is their differing racing philosophies. The 48-year-old Wallace is an old-style, seat-of-the-pants racer, while 27-year-old Newman is a graduate engineer who likes to depend on technology and information from his engineers to set up his cars.
"It's really two separate teams, totally,'' Wallace said Friday.
Wallace drives the No. 2 Dodge, while Newman drives the No. 12 Charger and rookie Travis Kvapil, the third member of the Penske team, races the No. 77 Dodge.
"The 77 and 2 share, every tire pressure, every shock, every piece,'' Wallace said. "The 12 car is totally off limits. It's totally a separate team. They're at one end of the shop, and it's unfortunate. I'm resigned to the fact.
"I'm tired of wearing myself out trying to fix it. I'm just going to do my deal and drive my guts out and give it everything I've got. ... I've beat this 12 thing to death forever, and they've got a whole different train of thought and that's fine.''
Wallace, driving his final full season in Nextel Cup, said Penske has offered to buy out his share of the team, as well as his longtime friend Miller's share. But Wallace said the ongoing fuss with Newman will not play a part in that decision, when he makes it.
"Again, I want to stress I haven't made that decision,'' Wallace said. "I've got an offer to do that. I lay awake at nights wondering if that's what I should do.''
Phoenix International Speedway announced Friday it will build a new grandstand with 14,000 seats and 25 to 28 luxury suites between turns one and two on the 1-mile oval.
Construction on the new grandstand will not begin until after the Nov. 13 Cup race, but it is scheduled to be completed in time for next April's race.
It might not change the capacity of about 100,000 at the desert track because track officials plan to remove several temporary wooden bleachers now lining the backstretch, as well as in turn three.
PIR has spent about $50 million on improvements, including a new tunnel and the energy-absorbing SAFER Barriers, since 2001.
Junior still most popular
With more than 1 million votes cast, Dale Earnhardt Jr. holds the lead in the yearlong Chex NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award.
"I can remember the time when the spring was the time of year we were talking about reaching 500,000 votes,'' said Sean Foster, marketing manager for General Mills' Chex brand cereal.
Actual numbers were not announced, but Earnhardt, who has won the award each of the past two years, is followed in the balloting at www.mostpopulardriver.com by Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip, Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin and series points leader Jimmie Johnson.
The voting continues until Nov. 21, the day after the season-ending race at Homestead.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press