INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Indiana native Ryan Newman saved the best for last Saturday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The last of 45 drivers to make a qualifying run for Sunday’s Crown Royal presents the Samuel Deeds 400, Newman stole the pole from Jimmie Johnson with a record-setting lap, touring the iconic 2.5-mile in 47.992 seconds (187.531 mph).
Johnson, who went out early in the session, was .024 seconds slower at 187.438 mph. The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, who is seeking a record fifth Brickyard win on Sunday, watched as his time stood up to every other driver’s save Newman’s.
The Coors Light Pole Award was the 50th of Newman’s career — breaking a tie with Bobby Isaac for ninth on the all-time list — his first at Indy and his first since Sept. 23, 2011 at New Hampshire. The pole comes at an opportune time for the driver nicknamed “Rocket Man,” who acknowledged less than three weeks ago that he would lose his ride at Stewart-Haas Racing next year.
Newman and Johnson both broke the previous qualifying record of 186.293 mph set by Casey Mears in 2004, as did the third- through ninth-place starters on the grid: Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon.
“I’ll admit I was emotional, for me, especially, because it was the Brickyard, and I hadn’t won a pole here before, and I’ve won so many poles,” Newman said. “It’s been so long since I’ve won a pole — people ask me if I’ve run out of fuel for the rockets.
“It’s special for me for a lot of reasons, being at home, being in Indiana, being at the Brickyard and being so long not winning a pole. Hopefully, we can turn it into a good day (on Sunday).”
As the pole winner, Newman gets first pick of pits stalls, and that means pit stall No. 1 closest to the exit from pit road — a huge bonus for the top qualifier at Indy.
“It’s really big,” Newman said. “This pit road here can lose you a race pretty quick. The boxes are long, but (pit road is) narrow, so having (that stall) is truly an advantage.”
Newman bettered Johnson’s lap through the first and second corners and held on through Turns 3 and 4 to snag the pole.
“I did miss Turn 2 a little bit on my turning point, and felt like I made that mistake, and then the lap tracker showed that,” acknowledged Johnson, the series points leader. “But Ryan hit all four corners great and got it done. Happy for him. It’s got to be a big day for him, being a hometown boy and all. Very happy for Ryan and very happy for our team.”
Note: Mike Bliss and Scott Speed failed to make the 43-car field.