Friday, June 8, 2007

Rocketman seems to be back in form

Capturing 35 poles over his first 150 races earned Ryan Newman the nickname “Rocketman.”

However, in his next 49 races, Newman won only three poles and was in danger of losing that status as the top qualifier in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.

Judging by the last two races, it appears as if the “Rocketman” is back.

First at Charlotte and then at Dover, Newman put his No. 12 Dodge owned by Penske Racing on the pole. He will try to make it three straight today at 3:40 during qualifying for the Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond.

“I wouldn’t say we’re back full force, but a percentage of us is,” Newman said. “We need some better results on race day, and we’re working on that.”

Actually, qualifying isn’t the only area where Newman is making a comeback.

During Monday’s race at Dover, Newman led 135 laps and placed second to Martin Truex Jr. It was his best finish of the season, and his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races.

After finishing in 38th place at Phoenix, Newman was mired in 26th place in the point standings. With his recent surge, however, he has climbed 10 spots in the standings to 16th. And, he is only 46 points out of 12th place — the final qualifying spot for the “Chase for the Championship.”

“There’s no doubt about it. I think we can make the Chase,” Newman said. “Tons of racing to go, and I think our performance needs to speak for itself when it comes to the points. We look forward to the opportunity.”

Winning a third straight pole today would not be a surprise for Newman since he has performed well at Pocono in the past.

In July 2003, Newman sat on the pole and went on to win the race. He also has an ARCA victory at Pocono in 2000.

Besides his back-to-back poles at Charlotte and Dover, Newman also won the pole this season at Atlanta.

Jeff Gordon has been the man to beat in qualifying so far this season with five poles — California, Bristol, Phoenix, Talladega and Richmond. He also started first a sixth time when qualifying at Texas was rained out and the starting lineup set by points.

Leading the standings by 152 points over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, Gordon has two career poles at Pocono.

Four drivers have won one pole each this season: David Gilliland (Daytona), Kasey Kahne (Las Vegas), Denny Hamlin (Martinsville) and Clint Bowyer (Darlington).

Last season, Hamlin swept the poles for both Pocono races. Kahne holds the track qualifying record at 172.533 mph, set in June 2004.

Bill Elliott and Ken Schrader share the record for career poles at Pocono with five each.

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