Jimmie Johnson, the current NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader, was well on his way to second career pole at Indianapolis until the last driver to take the green not only knocked him off, but set another track record. Hoosier Ryan Newman earned his first career pole at Indianapolis and will lead the field today to start the Brickyard 400 for the 20th running of stockcars on the famed oval.
Newman’s 187.531, a new track record, bested Johnson’s 187.438 by 24 thousandths of a second, roughly 6.5 feet. The previous record of 186.293 was set by Casey Mears in 2004.
“That was the benefit of going last,” Newman said. “I guess I did my homework. It was a great effort today and a good day for Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Newman was recently notified that he will not be driving for Stewart-Haas Racing next season. The team has opted to retain Danica Patrick who has sponsorship and add Kevin Harvick who has Budweiser sponsorship for 20 races next season.
Newman was emotional Saturday.
“It is special for me for a lot of reasons, being at home and being from Indiana. It has been so long since I’ve had a pole,” Newman said.
Despite that, his effort Saturday earned him membership in the “50 Poles Club.” He is the ninth driver to do so. Richard Petty has the most with 123 poles.
“I just am ecstatic. It’s awesome because it’s my 50th. It’s awesome because it’s Indy, and it’s a track record on top of that, so it’s like a double-triple bonus.”
Nicknamed the “Rocket,” Newman is currently 16th in the points and has not won a race since Martinsville in 2012. His last pole was in Loudon, NH in September of 2011. Newman made the Chase in 2009 and 2011 for SHR. While driving for Roger Penske, Newman won 13 races in his 7 years with Penske. “People have asked if I was out of fuel for the rocket,” Newman said.
Johnson’s position at the top of the leader board lasted most of the afternoon. His time of 48.016 was the first to eclipse Mears’ record. Although Johnson had won just one other pole at the Brickyard in 11 previous starts, he was happy for Newman.
“You can’t count Ryan out,” Johnson said. “I’m very excited about starting on the front row. I made a mistake in Turn 2, and it came back to get me.”
Johnson has won four previous races at Indianapolis, including three of the last five, and went on the win the championship three of the four times he won the Brickyard.
Two-time winner Tony Stewart qualified fifth with a speed of 186.827.
“To see your name at the top of the scoring pylon is the only thing better than just driving here,” Stewart said. “To qualify this well, I got a feeling we’re going to race well too.”
Stewart’s other driver, rookie Danica Patrick, will start 33rd after a tight race car could only manage a 182.938.
“We were consistent, just consistently tight. Four days of testing for qualifying would be nice,” Patrick said.
Carl Edwards will start third. He qualified his Roush-Fenway Racing entry at a speed of 187.157, while Joe Gibbs driver Denny Hamlin will start fourth after running a 187.122.
“We brought a brand new car here that everyone worked very hard on, and we were not very good at the beginning of practice,” Edwards said. “Everybody worked really hard to get the car right, and we had a great 1 and 2 and not so great at 3 and 4, and I thought I was going to be the most disappointed guy in the place until Ryan ran his lap, and I feel bad for Jimmie.”
Kurt Busch will start sixth, followed by Kasey Kahne at seventh and Juan Pablo Montoya in eighth.
Four-time winner Jeff Gordon will start ninth. His last win at the Brickyard was in 2004. Marcos Ambrose finishes out the top 10 qualifiers.
A.J. Allmendinger will make his second start of the year at Indianapolis. He ran the Indianapolis 500 for Roger Penske, finishing seventh in his rookie outing. Sunday, Allmendinger is starting 14th for Phoenix Racing.
“We started out yesterday (Friday) really bad, but kept making gains. We had really good race speed this morning. Maybe we will shock the world.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 15th, and Mark Martin makes his 20th Brickyard start in the 38th position. Scott Speed and Mike Bliss did not make the race.