June 8, 2007
LONG POND, Pa. -- Ryan Newman ended Denny Hamlin's Pocono perfection.
Newman showed again he has the qualifying part of race weekend figured out. Now all he wants is to be in front when the checkered flag drops.
Newman raced to his third straight pole and 41st overall with a lap of 170.062 at Pocono Raceway on Friday. He also took the top spot at Lowe's Motor Speedway and again last week at Dover International Speedway.
He has four poles overall this year with no wins. His best finish came Monday at Dover when he finished second behind Martin Truex Jr., and his last win came nearly two years ago.
"It'd be nice to click off three wins in a row, not just three poles in a row," Newman said.
Newman's lap spoiled Hamlin's run of winning everything at Pocono. Hamlin qualified second after he won two poles and two races last year in his first two trips to the 2.5-mile triangle track.
Hamlin will have to aim for winning the Pocono 500. He could join Bobby Allison (1982-83) and Tim Richmond (1986-87) as the only drivers to win three consecutive races at Pocono.
"I'm real happy with where we ended up," Hamlin said. "I definitely feel we have a car that can win on Sunday."
Truex followed his first career Nextel Cup victory by qualifying third. Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer round out the top five. Points leader Jeff Gordon starts 18th.
Newman holds the pole in the first race since longtime NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. died on Monday. The flags at Pocono Raceway, and many others flying from haulers, were lowered to half staff.
Several drivers paid respects to France on Thursday in a short, simple funeral service.
"I'm sure it's a very difficult time for them, but yesterday's services went well," Jimmie Johnson said. "Probably as good as you can expect. We paid our respects and then came up to Pocono."
Newman's run also salvaged the day for car owner Roger Penske. Teammate Kurt Busch was docked 100 driver points, fined $100,000 and placed on probation until the end of the year for reckless driving and endangering a crew member on pit road.
Newman -- who has 12 career victories -- has seen his trips to Victory Lane almost dry up since winning eight races in 2003. He won only three more times since that year, leaving poles as one of the highlights of his season and left hoping he can return to his winning form.
"I never thought it would have slipped away in the first place," he said. "I think as long as we keep putting ourselves in position and qualifying as well ... we'll be in position at some point."
Newman is the second driver this year (Jeff Gordon) to post three straight poles. Newman also won three straight in 2003 and four in a row in '04.
Hamlin was the sixth driver to sweep the season at Pocono. Until he showed up for practice last year, Hamlin said the only way he knew the track layout at all was through video games. Hamlin led 234 of a combined 400 laps in the No. 11 Chevrolet, and went 169.278 on Friday.
"We have got the same car back, but it's been changed a million different times and it's nothing like the old car that it used to be," Hamlin said.
The Associated Press News Service
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