BRISTOL — The Rocketman was still flying high Friday evening at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Ryan Newman, fresh off a victory in Wednesday’s NASCAR Modified Series race at BMS, won the pole for tonight’s IRWIN Tools Night Race with a lap of 15.624 seconds (122.811 mph).
Driving the No. 39 Chevrolet, Newman earned his second pole of the season and the 48th of his career.
“It was a good lap, but it didn’t feel that fast,” Newman said. “These Cup cars just feel so much slower than the Modifieds through the corners. We have momentum, just a lot of things going our way right now.”
Newman, whose 128.709 mph lap in 2003 is still the Sprint Cup track record, scored his third pole at Bristol overall. He described the car as driving the same in qualifying as it did in practice, although his qualifying speed was over five mph faster than the final practice session.
The 33-year-old Indiana native won his first pole this season at New Hampshire and followed it up with a race victory. He said that starting up front at Bristol was just as important.
“When you’re up front, your emotions are pretty calm because a lot of things are going your way,” he said. “You’re starting in a good position with good pit selection. I just look forward to the race. It’s a great race to watch the flashbulbs going into turn one.”
Carl Edwards, who won the pole for the Jeff Byrd 500 in March, qualified less than .02 of a second off Newman’s pace at 122.670 mph.
“That was a pretty exciting lap,” Edwards said. “I don’t know if I lifted off (turn) four, but it was headed for the fence. I was kind of doing the odds in my head how much it was going to tear up the car if I put it in the fence. Man, we wanted that pole bad, but it was a good starting spot.”
Edwards’ No. 99 Ford was the fastest car in both of the day’s practice sessions, and he ultimately decided a bonzai run wasn’t worth it.
“Ryan beat me and that was all I had,” Edwards said. “I really hated that we didn’t get the pole. It’s really, really frustrating when you miss the pole by just two-hundredths of a second. The car was just so fast all day.”
While Newman paced time trials, his teammate Tony Stewart was the slowest of 46 cars. He ran a lap of 16.485 seconds (116.397 mph) before shutting off the engine on the second lap. Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet will start last in tonight’s field of 43 cars.
“It wasn’t a good day for the 14 obviously,” Newman said. “I think it’s one of those deals where you spend the night regrouping. We never want to see the cars that far apart whether it’s the set-up or the results.
“We share information — there’s no doubt about that. We share so much information sometimes so much that it’s confusing to go through it. But, it’s like Buddy Baker taught me, it’s sometimes better to learn what not to do than what to do.”
Edwards teammate, Matt Kenseth, qualified third in a Ford at 122.662 mph. The Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin in Chevrolets rounded out the top five.
Five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 13th, while Kevin Harvick, the winner of Wednesday night’s Truck Series race, was two spots behind in 15th.
Other notables included 22nd fastest Dale Earnhardt Jr., sporting a special BMS 50th anniversary paint scheme on his No. 88 Chevrolet, and defending race winner Kyle Busch who was 23rd fastest.