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

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.

Third-place Greg Biffle qualified seventh, followed by
sixth-place Mark Martin. Johnson, who trails Stewart by 43 points,
qualified 11th, Stewart 16th and Edwards 30th.