Newman back up front for FC 500

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   BRISTOL -- No surprise here. Ryan Newman remains NASCAR's fastest qualifier.
   For the 21st time in his short NASCAR Nextel Cup Series career, and for the second straight year in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Newman starts a race from the pole position.
   "It's about getting tuned to the race track and getting all you can out of those Goodyear tires," said Newman after turning a lap of 14.954 seconds and a speed of 128.313 miles per hour on Friday. "You have to get all four tires to grip the race track.
   "To get around this place as fast as we did is not simple by any means. These tires are softer than last year. I didn't know if the lap would hold up. I thought the 8, 16 and 24 had a chance of beating us. It just worked out good for us."
   It was the same No. 12 Dodge that set a track record at Bristol one season ago, and the same car he used earlier this season at Rockingham and Atlanta.
   "It's bragging rights and getting a good starting spot on Sunday," said Newman about his role as the driver to beat every week in time trials. "It doesn't always pay the most money. Knowing you have a fast car gets the weekend off right."
   His time was good enough to beat the speed of128.288 miles per hour recorded by second place Jeff Gordon
   "Your mindset changes once you get on the race track," said Gordon. "I'm happy to be second, but I thought we had a good shot at winning it. We were only three-thousandths off. I love to qualify here and I love to race here.
   "It was a real solid lap. It's bittersweet. It's a front-row start, but we wanted that number one spot. It's impressive what Newman is doing. You want to knock him off so bad. You want to beat him. Those guys have their act together."
   Greg Biffle, who won the pole position for the NASCAR Busch Series race here a couple of hours earlier, qualified third in his No. 16 National Guard Ford.
   "The car seems to be a little faster than the driver right now," said Biffle. "I'm having a little trouble over there in three and four, but it was a really good lap. The car is probably capable of being on the pole speed, but we're excited."
   Nine-time Bristol winner Rusty Wallace was the early qualifying leader as his time held up until teammate Newman beat the mark as the 14th car out.
   "That was a good lap," said Wallace. "It's the first time I've run a lap under 15 seconds here. We had a real good test and we've got the three Penske Dodges in the top 10, so hopefully we'll have a good day on Sunday."
   Rookie Kasey Kahne in the No. 9 Dodge rounded out the top five. Jamie McMurray, who had his primary car confiscated earlier in the day by NASCAR, bounced back to qualify sixth.
   As mentioned before, Biffle won the pole for Saturday's Busch Series Sharpie Professional 250 also on Friday on a day when time trials weresponsored by Charter Communications.
   About his series record-breaking run of 127.132 miles per hour the driver of the No. 60 Charter Ford said, "It was a great lap. It was just the guys at the shop preparing the car. We couldn't have done a better job for our sponsor Charter."
   Rounding out the top ten for today's Nextel Cup race includes rookie Brendan Gaughan in seventh, Michael Waltrip in eighth, Elliott Sadler in ninth and another rookie Johnny Sauter in tenth.
   Starting positions for other notables include last week's race winner Jimmie Johnson in 11th, former series champ Tony Stewart in 12th, two-time defending race champion Kurt Busch in 13th, Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 18th and defending series champion Matt Kenseth in 23rd.