Newman Shows Flair For Drama, Speed To Win Pole At Brickyard
It all seemed like a formality as four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson was set to win the pole after withstanding everybody’s best shots during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifications Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. One by one, drivers such as Juan Pablo Montoya, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards took their best shots but couldn’t knock Johnson’s NASCAR track-record lap of 187.438 mph off the top of the Scoring Pylon.
With one driver left out of 45 participating in qualifications, it appeared that Johnson would begin his quest for a record fifth Brickyard 400 win from the pole position.
Somebody forgot to tell Ryan Newman.
Newman, from South Bend, Ind., provided the drama as the final driver to make a qualification attempt. He broke Johnson’s track record with a fast lap at 187.531 mph in the No. 39 Quicken Loans/The Smurfs Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Team owner Tony Stewart was talking to an assembled group of reporters in the media bullpen on pit road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway about his qualification lap of 186.827 mph when the news of Newman’s record lap boomed over the public address system. Stewart lit up a big smile, interrupted his answer and said, “Sorry guys, but that’s my driver that just won the pole.”
Newman is Stewart’s driver, but not for much longer. He was told earlier this season that he would not be back on the team and would be replaced by Kevin Harvick, who moves over from Richard Childress Racing in 2014. After Stewart, the two-time Brickyard 400 winner and three-time Sprint Cup champion from nearby Columbus, Ind., congratulated his driver, the man who got knocked off the pole also came over to pay his regards to Newman as Jimmie Johnson congratulated his rival.
It was the first Brickyard 400 pole for Newman and the 50th pole of his Cup career, making him one of just nine drivers to win 50 career NASCAR Sprint Cup poles. He joined such exclusive company as Richard Petty, David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Mark Martin and Bill Elliott in that category.
Newman is generally stoic and seemingly a man of little emotion. Ask a stupid question, and he’ll reply with a sarcastic answer. In the past, he has downplayed his connection with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and often referred to Michigan International Speedway as his home track.
But considering all the back story of Newman’s pole – being a lame-duck driver without knowing for which team he will race next season, capturing the 50th pole of his career and having it come at such an historic venue, even the stone-faced, no-necked, broad-shoulder Newman admitted it got to him.
“I got emotional on the backstretch when they told me that,” Newman said. “It's special to me because it's Indiana, but it's more special to me because it's the Brickyard, because it's Indy, because of the history of auto racing at this facility. So many drivers who are my heroes, so many drivers I've admired, so many drivers that have worked so hard in their career to get to here on this day, to be the fastest one, that's what's the most special to me.
“It was awesome to get that standing ovation from all the Indiana guys and girls that are here. It does feel like home again in Indiana, even though it does not feel like Indiana weather today. But I'm excited. My sister lives out on the West Side (of Indianapolis). My parents still have a house in South Bend. I still have the Indiana roots. That didn't make me any faster today, but it makes it more gratifying when we did win the pole.”
Johnson went out 11th among 45 drivers in the qualification session and laid down a tremendous lap in the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. On pit road he looked calm, confident and relaxed as other drivers attempted to take the pole away from him.
“It was just a very close qualifying session,” Johnson said. “I think when you look through the top four or five cars, it was very, very tight, and I had some close calls, including with Carl Edwards and the great lap he had. But I felt like watching on the lap tracker, the majority of the cars except for Ryan, I didn't have the best (Turns) 1 and 2, but in 3 and 4, I'd rally back. I started rallying back on Ryan but just didn't have enough front straightaway to really get there the way it looked on the screen that ESPN was showing me.
“But it was a very, very good lap for our race team. I did miss Turn 2 a little bit on my turning point, and felt like that I made that mistake and then the lap tracker showed that. But Ryan hit all four corners great and got it done. I’m happy for him. It's got to be a big day for him, being a hometown boy and all. I’m very happy for Ryan and very happy for our team.
“Starting up front is important here. Hopefully we'll have a good day tomorrow.”
The front row of Newman and Johnson is followed by Carl Edwards, who ran a fast lap of 187.157 mph in the No. 99 Fastenal Ford and Denny Hamlin’s 187.122 in the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota in the second row.
“I was just really proud of our guys,” Edwards said. “We brought a brand-new car here that everyone worked very hard on, and we were not very good at the beginning of practice. Everybody worked really hard to get the car right, and we had a great (Turn) 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 because I know.
“I felt really good. Second is the worst, you guys. It's the worst to qualify second, and nobody wants anybody to go through what Jimmie just had to go through. We all don't feel too bad for Jimmie, but that was pretty dramatic. I didn't really expect that.”
Johnson’s drive for five at the Brickyard will begin on the outside of Row 1, which is a pretty good starting position for the driver that dominated last year’s race by leading 99 laps and taking his fourth checkered flag at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It's cool to be in that position, but it's not something that motivates me,” Johnson said. “I'm much more in the moment and worried about this weekend's race. I’m very proud of the fact that I've won four and understand that, but how I got there and how those stats look next to Jeff Gordon's, I don't have a clue.”
Johnson’s teammate, Jeff Gordon, also has four Brickyard 400 wins and has been attempting to win a fifth at the Brickyard since he scored win No. 4 in 2004.
“Of course the competitive spirit in me wants to do it better,” Johnson said of being tied with Gordon. “It would be foolish to say otherwise. But it's not a motivating factor for me. It's really – we go week to week, and when you're in the sport 12 or 13 years, you learn how to just, good or bad, what happened the week prior, it just has to go away, and you know up to a new set of challenges and go to work and see what you can do.”
Stewart qualified fifth in his No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet with a lap at 186.827 mph as he attempts to win the Brickyard for the third time in his career. But he was also beaming over the fact one of his drivers will start on the pole.
"This was a pretty good lap for us,” Stewart said. “We didn't know how much the track was going lose grip with the sun in the middle of day. We made adjustments between the Happy Hour session and qualifying, and I am really happy with it. I feel like we have a car we can race with tomorrow. So far, so good. I am really, really happy with the changes that Steve Addington (crew chief) and our guys made between Happy Hour and qualifying. It gives us a good idea what we need to do for the race because that is exactly what we working on during practice. I think we have a pretty good shot at this thing tomorrow. There are about 10 really good cars right now in the field. I feel like we are right there in the hunt. We just have to put the whole day together tomorrow.
“This is one of those tracks where track position is important, but it's not absolutely everything. You have got to have a car you can race with. If you can get it to qualify well, normally it will race well, too. Just having a car that is balanced is the biggest thing."
But this day belonged to Newman, who was able to share the one of the biggest moments of his career with his team owner who made the decision to replace him next season.
“No hard feelings,” Newman said. “They made a move, and that move makes me move, and there's no hard feelings. I don't know what I'm going to do. Obviously this is a good step in publicity for me on the positive side, so we'll see what we can do tomorrow. Today is over, and we've got to focus on getting our Quicken Loans Chevrolet fast for tomorrow and still making the Chase.
“I just am ecstatic. It's awesome because it's my 50th (pole). 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. But just really look forward to tomorrow. We've proven today that we have a fast race car, and we just need to go out and put together 400 miles, and that's much easier said than done.”
It was also Newman’s first pole since September 2011, which is odd considering he is considered one of the best qualifiers in NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“Oh, it's been bothering me for a long time,” Newman said. “It bothered me really bad to not be in the Sprint Unlimited this year because I feel like I'm a driver that can still hit his marks each and every lap and put it all together, and we didn't win a pole last year. We were close at times, but it's going to be special for me to get back in that race and I know that I earned it, and I earned it at a special place.”