Crash relegates Rocketman to back of grid
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Despite having the fastest car in qualifying, Ryan Newman is going to have to race from the rear of the field in Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Newman's first qualifying lap of 192.947 mph Friday on the 1.5-mile Texas oval was easily fast enough to beat runner-up Jeff Gordon's 192.397.
When Newman began his run, Matt Kenseth was on top of the speed chart with a lap of 191.966. Newman's first lap was much quicker, but NASCAR's leading qualifier didn't realize it and kept the gas pedal in his No. 12 Penske Racing South Dodge planted firmly on the floor for a second lap.
The Rocketman didn't make it to the checkered flag, crashing hard heading into turn four when the right front tire on his speeding car went flat, sending sparks flying and the car skidding straight up the banking into the concrete barrier.
Newman, tied with Carl Edwards for fourth in the season standings and trailing leader Tony Stewart by 107 points with three races remaining in the 10-race Chase for the championship, needs a big day Sunday. But, now, he will have to start from the rear of the 43-car field in a backup car.
"I'm not sure what happened," Newman said, shrugging off the tough luck. "It was a great lap for our team. We picked up speed [from practice] and were doing the right things. Something just happened and the tire went down. It could have been cut or we could have run over something. I don't know."
Four-time series champion Gordon sounded a bit in awe when asked about Newman's spectacular qualifying, which has produced eight poles this season and 35 in his brief career.
"They've found something for qualifying that just doesn't exist for anybody else," Gordon said. "But yet they don't seem to have it for the race, which is interesting to me."
Newman, who has won just once this season, noted that there is still too much racing remaining to count him or any of the top five or six drivers in the points out of title contention.
"We'd like to be No. 1 with a 150-point lead right now, but that's racing," Newman said.
"That's what the sport is driven off of, the way the points system is," he said. "I don't think it's perfect. I still wish we had points for qualifying, but I don't think there's anything that needs to happen. The sport is not going downhill because of the points system."
Kenseth, who is seventh in the standings, a daunting 155 points behind Stewart, held onto the third spot for Sunday's race and will actually start from the inside of the front row, alongside Gordon, because of a NASCAR rule that simply moves everyone in the same row forward when someone has to drop back. But Newman is still credited with the pole and starting first because he won't fall to the rear until after the cars move onto the track Sunday.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press