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Sprint Cup Notes: Newman On The Pole At Martinsville

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 23 2009
The book on Ryan Newman is that he is a heck of a road racer, especially at Infineon Raceway.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Ryan Newman and crew chief Tony Gibson found the right stuff to win the pole at Martinsville on Friday. (File photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Ryan Newman will attempt to begin his long climb back into contention for this year’s Sprint Cup championship from the pole position at Martinsville Speedway.

Newman, who is eighth in points and 288 behind leader Jimmie Johnson, won the pole for the Tums Fast Relief 500 Friday with a lap at 96.795 mph. His time was 19.56 seconds.

The pole was the 45th of Newman’s career.

He was asked if he thinks Martinsville could be the turning point for him and his Stewart-Haas Racing team.

“That was a statement that I made to (team director of competition) Bobby Hutchens in the truck less than an hour ago, when qualifying had already started,” Newman said. “This was the place that to me was a turning point for our organization, getting the two cars good finishing positions and showing what we were capable of to everybody. Whether it was Martinsville or Charlotte or any place else, it doesn’t really matter. It awards just as many points here as it does at any other race track. There was no real us trying to make a statement, it was just that we made a statement.”

Starting next to Newman on the front row in Sunday’s race – which is the sixth event of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship – will be Jeff Gordon. Gordon is third in points, 135 behind Johnson, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports.

Martin Truex Jr. was third fastest in qualifying.

Fourth was another Hendrick driver and the man who is second in points, Mark Martin. Martin will start Sunday’s race 90 points behind Johnson.

Johnson qualified 15th fastest.

Jeff Gordon was asked the ultimate tough question on Friday at Martinsville Speedway. A question so tough it simply cannot be answered. So, Gordon didn’t answer it. Not definitively, anyway.

Gordon was asked if he would rather see Jimmie Johnson or Mark Martin win this year’s Sprint Cup championship.

Because Johnson, Martin – who are first and second in points respectively – and Gordon are all teammates at Hendrick Motorsports, you just knew what was coming: Politics.

“I don’t think there is anybody in the garage area that wouldn’t like to see Mark Martin win it as a sentimental favorite,” Gordon, who also remains alive in the championship spat, said. “I’ve raced with Mark so many times over the years and seen him come so close to winning the championship. I don’t think there is anybody more deserving than Mark Martin. That team has gone through a lot so from the sentimental value I think it would be fantastic.”

But…

“But the No. 48 team, they’ve earned the position that they’re in. They’ve worked hard at it. They’re a great, great team and I think they’re in a position to make history. I think there is something very special about that.”

This weekend marks the fifth anniversary of the plane crash which killed 10 people associated with Hendrick Motorsports.

The crash occurred in the foggy mountains near Martinsville and it occurred as the airplane was headed to the fall Cup race there.

Mark Martin was still driving for Roush Racing back then. But Martin, like all in the sport, felt for the Hendrick family and organization that day five years ago.

He said Friday that he feels it more deeply now that he drives for Rick Hendrick, who lost a brother and a son that day.

“Because I’m closer to the organization, I feel the pain that radiates throughout the organization and obviously feel and sense the pain; not only that is associated with this weekend but periodically other times as well,” Martin said. “So, it is a source of great pain when you can feel it throughout the organization.”

Tony Stewart’s head is really into his hobby.

The two-time Cup champion and current owner/driver for Stewart-Haas Racing collects racing helmets.

“I’ve probably now got around somewhere from 70 to 75,” Stewart said. “Some of them are helmets that I’ve traded with people but I’ve just bought individual collections through the years since I started in 1999. The first helmet that I traded in the Cup Series was with Elliott Sadler who I was running for rookie of the year with. Every year I trade helmets with drivers in the series and the collection just keeps growing. One day we’ll have a nice place to display them all to everybody but right now a lot of them are in boxes but one day we know we’ll have some place nice we can let everybody enjoy them.”

Ford Racing announced Friday that its new engine will debut at Talladega next week. That brought a smile to Ford driver Greg Biffle’s face.

“I’m really excited,” Biffle, who will not use the new engine because he is in the Chase, said. “I know Doug Yates and that group at Roush Yates Engines have really, really worked hard on this engine. I had a meeting last week with Doug, or got a chance to talk to him a little bit about the engine and how they’re gonna start cycling them in and how the durability testing is going on it, and I think it’s exciting for us to start phasing that engine in.

“It’s gonna take some time still because with the amount of teams we have, plus if the merger happens, that’s a few more for them and that’s a lot of engines to transition into. Probably for some of us it will be as late as the second half of next year before we start running them full time, probably, I would think, because this is a lot of engines to get built up.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 23 2009
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