CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Ryan Newman got nervous when he discovered in practice the fastest way around Charlotte Motor Speedway was by hugging the outside wall.
The expert qualifier gulped and decided to take the high line on Thursday night. Newman promptly avoided the fence and captured his second straight Coca-Cola 600 pole and the ninth in 19 Sprint Cup races at the track.
All it required was what he called “the most courageous lap” he’s run here. He was clocked at 187.546 mph and barely beat out All-Star race winner Kurt Busch, who will start second on Sunday.
“I’ve never run into a corner at 200 mph up against the wall and made it stick and still come out the other end,” said Newman, who earned his 46th career pole, but first of the season. “To have the courage to put yourself in that position is tough enough, let alone doing it, pulling it off and winning that pole. I’ve never been a guy to run the wall, let alone in qualifying.”
No active driver has more poles at Charlotte than Newman, who moved within five of David Pearson’s track record.
Now he’d like to finally turn it into success in NASCAR’s longest race. Newman has never won a Sprint Cup event at Charlotte.
“It’s been easier for me to go out and run one lap and do it fast than it is to go out and run 600 miles fast,” Newman said. “I could do that, it’s just a matter of putting yourself in the track position, putting yourself in the right position, right tires, a good pit crew and things like that.”
Newman will have plenty of competition Sunday, with Busch starting next to him. His lap of 187.292 mph came five days after he won the $1 million All-Star race prize.
“It’s just a good vibe we have,” Busch said. “Things are going good, and hopefully we can get it put together for the full 600 miles.”
Martin Truex Jr. will start third, followed by Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and defending champion David Reutimann.
Denny Hamlin qualified seventh and Kyle Busch ninth on the same day Hamlin took some verbal jabs at his teammate following their much publicized wreck in the closing laps of the All-Star race.
Hamlin and Busch were spotted chatting and smiling on pit road as qualifying wound down. Points leader Kevin Harvick qualified 23rd and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 24th. Reed Sorenson, Max Papis, David Stremme and Mike Bliss failed to make the 43-car field.
Lucking out when he drew 25th out of 47 cars in the qualifying order, Newman took to the track after the shadows had engulfed all four turns on a warm day.
He noticed in practice that Juan Pablo Montoya was running the fastest times by running on the high side, despite Newman’s success in the past running closer to the apron.
“It tells you how much things have changed between the tires, the race track and the cars,” Newman said. “To be able to do something different than I’ve always done to create an ultimate fast lap.”
It was 86 degrees with the sun still shining when qualifying began, and several drivers who went out early had trouble with the slick track.
Brad Keselowski’s decision to make a second qualifying lap backfired when he hit the wall coming out of the fourth turn, skidded through the infield and came close to hitting Kyle Busch’s car parked in the pits.
Keselowski was unhurt, but he’ll have to go to a backup car and move to the rear of the field at the start of Sunday’s race.
“Definitely some regrets taking that second lap,” Keselowski said, “but I’m all right.”
David Ragan also spun out in the fourth turn before taking the green flag on his first lap. He avoided hitting the wall, setting off a mad scramble with his team changing a flat tire before the 5-minute window to get back on the track ended. Ragan qualified 35th.
Carl Edwards hit the wall in practice and was forced to go his backup car. He qualified 31st.