Newman captures pole for season's longest race

CONCORD, North Carolina -- Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch gave Penske Racing a grip on the front row for the Coca-Cola 600. Now they hope to end Penske's drought at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Newman won his 39th career pole Thursday with a lap at 185.312 mph. Busch, showing no ill effects after getting tangled up with brother Kyle in a wreck during last weekend's All-Star race, qualified second at 185.065.

Roger Penske has won 14 Indianapolis 500s as a car owner, and Penske driver Helio Castroneves will be on the pole Sunday. But Penske has never won a race at Charlotte.

"He's only been trying here for like 20 years, so yeah it would be special," said Newman, who will make his 200th career start Sunday. "It's been something that weighs on the drivers and the teams."

Elliott Sadler qualified third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth.

Denny Hamlin was sixth, followed by Ricky Rudd, Dave Blaney, Bobby Labonte and David Stremme, giving Dodge five of the top 10 qualifiers.

Michael Waltrip can't hide his frustration after failing to make a race for the 11th time in row. (AP)
With the race a 100 miles longer than any other NASCAR competition, the pole Sunday night has less significance. The drama involved who would make the field. With 49 drivers entered, six missed the race.

That included Michael Waltrip, who failed to qualify for his 11th straight race after wrecking during his second qualifying lap.

Waltrip, who brushed the wall in practice, lost control of his Toyota high on the track in the second turn. He missed hitting the outside wall, but his spinning car slammed into the inside wall, ripping off a front tire. The car hit the wall a second time before coming to rest. He was not injured.

"I really struggled hanging on to it," Waltrip told his crew.

Waltrip's teammate, rookie David Reutimann, also crashed and didn't make the field. Jeff Green wrecked in the second turn, but will use a provisional to make the race.

Ward Burton, Kevin Lepage, Mike Bliss and Paul Menard weren't so lucky. All failed to make the race.

Teams who qualified later had the advantage, as the slippery track cooled.

Newman, going out 34th, ran a clean lap and hopes to jump start his season. He hasn't won since September 2005.

"We've been in this position before and haven't followed through," he said. "Hopefully the experience will pay off."

The Associated Press News Service