Work in Sports
Rookie Newman earns first career pole for Coca-Cola 600
Updated: Friday May 25, 2001 12:31 AM
By Stephen Thomas, CNNSI.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- Lowe's Motor Speedway can't catch much of a break these days.
Until last Saturday night's all-star race, The Winston, was delayed almost two hours by bad weather, it hadn't rained in Concord, N.C., in 23 days. Then, though it did rain during the week, the elements went quiet again ... until it was time to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600 on Thursday night.
But after rain again delayed the proceedings more than two hours, the weather finally cooperated long enough to allow Ryan Newman to take the first pole of his brief Winston Cup career.
Newman's run wasn't a total shock -- he did lead much of last Saturday's Winston Open before blowing up with three laps to go -- but it was pretty darn close. Not only has the 23-year-old Newman started only two other Cup races (at Phoenix last year and Las Vegas earlier this year), but in those races, he finished an undistinguished 35th and 41st.
"This is super big for me," Newman said. "If we can be as fast as we were in that Winston Open, I think we'll be pretty good. To qualify as good as we did is great, but 600 miles is a totally different issue. This is a victory for us, no matter how we do Sunday, but we want to run the full race Sunday."
If the lengthy rain delay was tiresome, it did serve to put all drivers on a more equal footing. Had things run as scheduled and started at 7:15 p.m. EST, drivers like Bodine, Elliott and Harvick, all of whom will start near the front Sunday, would have been forced to make their runs in daylight, on a much slower track. Indeed, the 1.5-mile oval was fast for everyone.
Jeff Gordon, who knows a bit about getting around Charlotte in a hurry (he's won four races and sat on seven poles at the track), still didn't know enough to knock off Newman. He will, however, start second.
"Ryan was that fast," Gordon said when asked if he was disappointed in his inability to topple Newman. "He put a great lap up there. I saw those times like Todd [Bodine] put up, and I didn't think anyone would touch that. But it's amazing how much grip this place gets when it cools down."
The aforementioned Bodine, the youngest of those racing Bodine boys from upstate New York, will start third and Bill Elliott will start fourth. Jimmy Spencer rounds out the top five. Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett got loose in turn three, slammed into the wall in turn four and will start 37th.
Still, Newman was the story of the hour, a virtual unknown who comes from nowhere to steal the big boys' thunder. The big boys, however, were not shocked. "Believe it or not, I picked him to sit on the pole," Kevin Harvick said of Newman's run. "I told my guys that this morning."
Newman received even higher praise from Gordon.
"Ryan just did a great job," Gordon said. "He's got a lot of talent. He tested a Busch car for me and Ray [Evernham] a few years ago. I knew back then that if he got with a good team and had good equipment, he'd be tough to beat. And he proved it tonight."
Newman, of course, faces a much taller order: He needs to prove it this Sunday.