LOUDON -- Last in. First up.
Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon pulled down two of the top three starting spots for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup race during qualifying at New Hampshire Motor Speedway late on Friday afternoon.
Newman grabbed the pole, his seventh in his 24 races here and 51st overall, with a record qualifying lap of 136.497 miles per hour. The previous record of 135.922 was set by Brad Keselowski in the July race.Kasey Kahne qualified second and Gordon was third.
Being in front will give him an edge on Sunday, Newman said.
“I’ve sat here before and said I think this is the birthplace of track position and I feel it probably is,” Newman said. “I’m happy, obviously, to be on the pole and to get my 51st pole and to do it at a place where it’s real tough to pass. It probably means the most here.”
Newman and Gordon are both in the 13-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Both were unprecedented, late additions to the field.
They were awarded spots in the aftermath of the late-race issues at Richmond International Raceway, the last event before the Chase began, two weeks ago.
NASCAR chose to adjust the composition of the Chase as a result of maneuverings by team members of Michael Waltrip Racing. Newman was put into the Chase to replace Martin Truex Jr. on the Monday after the race. Last Friday, two days before the first playoff race at Chicagoland Speedway, Gordon was added to what is usually a 12-driver Chase.
Both drivers set themselves up in good position to take further advantage of their second chances.
“If you’re ever going to get momentum and get things rolling, this is the time to do it,” Gordon said.
Newman (10th) and Gordon (sixth) got off to solid Chase starts at Chicagoland.
Gordon sits in seventh place in the standings, 24 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. Newman is another point back.
Chase drivers dominate the top of the field for Sunday’s race. They fill 10 of the first 12 starting positions.
Kahne is tied for 10th in points. Kurt Busch (tied for sixth in points) will start fourth. Truex Jr. is fifth and Joey Logano (12th) is sixth.Paul Menard is seventh, Kevin Harvick is fourth, Kenseth is ninth and Greg Biffle (tied for 10th) starts 10th. Jimmie Johnson (third) starts 11th and Kyle Busch (sixth) is 12th.
Kenseth won his series-leading sixth race of the season in the Chase opener last week at Chicagoland after starting 10th.
He’s got an early eight-point edge in the standings on his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. Johnson is 11 points behind Kenseth.
“Last week was really great for us obviously,” Kenseth said. “But that was last week. This week presents totally different challenges, a totally different kind of race track, totally different style of racing.”
Still, he came out of Chicago the same way he went in — atop the point standings.
“You always want to be ahead,” Kenseth said “Somebody might say different, but I don’t think they’re telling the truth. Everybody wants to be in front and trying to expand your lead. ... (The Chase) couldn’t have started any better than it did, but it’s only one race out of 10 and there’s a lot of racing to do.”
Starting up front, certainly, is no predictor of Sunday success.
He qualified on the pole for last week’s race and had high Chicago hopes.
They didn’t last long. He led the first 32 laps and was third after an extended rain delay, but then his engine blew.
Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also blew an engine last week, are already in a deep hole in the Chase. Logano is in 12th place, 52 points behind Kenseth. Earnhardt is another spot and point behind that. A maximum of 48 points is available in each race.
Earnhardt will start 17th on Sunday. Clint Bowyer is tied for eighth in points and starts 16th. Carl Edwards is the Chase driver with the toughest road on Sunday. He is tied for fifth in points and qualified 26th.
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