SPEEDWAY, Ind. – It all seemed like a formality as four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson was set to win the pole after withstanding everybody’s best shots during Saturday’s long day of qualifications at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
One by one, drivers such as Juan Pablo Montoya, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards took their best shots but couldn’t knock Johnson’s track record lap of 187.438 miles per hour off the top of the scoring pylon.
With one driver left in qualifications, it appeared that Johnson would begin his quest for a record fifth Brickyard 400 win from the pole position.
Somebody forgot to tell Ryan Newman.
The driver from South Bend, Ind., provided the drama as the final driver to make a qualification attempt broke Johnson’s track record with a fast lap at 187.531 mph in a Chevrolet for Stewart Haas Racing.
Team owner Tony Stewart was talking to an assembled group of reporters in the media bullpen on pit road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway about his own qualification lap of 186.827 mph when the news of Newman’s record lap boomed over the public address system. Stewart lit up a big smile, interrupted his answer and said, ‘Sorry guys, but that’s my driver that just won the pole.’”
Newman is Stewart’s driver, but not for much longer. He was told earlier this season that he would not be back on the team and would be replaced by Kevin Harvick, who moves over from Richard Childress Racing in 2014. After Stewart, the two-time Brickyard 400 winner and three-time Cup champion from nearby Columbus, Ind., congratulated his driver, the man who got knocked off the pole also came over to pay his regards to Newman as Jimmie Johnson congratulated his rival.
It was the first Brickyard 400 pole for Newman and the 50th pole of his Cup career making him one of just nine drivers to win 50 career NASCAR Sprint Cup poles joining such exclusive company as Richard Petty, David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Mark Martin and Bill Elliott in that category.
Newman is generally stoic, often aloof, and seemingly a man of little emotion. Ask a stupid question and if reply with a smart-ass answer. In the past, he has downplayed his connection with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and often referred to Michigan Int’l Speedway as his “Home Track.”
But considering all the back story of Newman’s pole – being a lame-duck driver without knowing where he will be racing next season, capturing the 50th pole of his career and having it come at such an historic venue, even the stone-faced, no-necked, broad-shoulder Newman admitted it got to him.
“I got emotional on the backstretch when they told me that,” Newman admitted. “It’s special to me because it’s Indiana, but it’s more special to me because it’s the Brickyard, because it’s Indy, because of the history of auto racing at this facility. So many drivers who are my heroes, so many drivers I’ve admired, so many drivers that have worked so hard in their career to get to here on this day, to be the fastest one, that’s what’s the most special to me.
“It was awesome to get that standing ovation from all the Indiana guys and girls that are here. It does feel like home again in Indiana, even though it does not feel like Indiana weather today. But I’m excited. My sister lives out on the West Side. My parents still have a house in South Bend. I still have the Indiana roots. That didn’t make me any faster today, but it makes it more gratifying when we did win the pole.”
Johnson went out fairly early in the qualification session and laid down a tremendous lap in the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. On pit road he looked calm, confident and relaxed as other drivers attempted to take the pole away from him.
“It was just a very close qualifying session,” Johnson said. “I think when you look through the top four or five cars, it was very, very tight, and I had some close calls including with Carl Edwards and the great lap he had. But I felt like watching on the lap tracker, the majority of the cars except for Ryan, I didn’t have the best one and two, but in three and four I’d rally back. I started rallying back on Ryan but just didn’t have enough front straightaway to really get there the way it looked on the screen that ESPN was showing me.
“But it was a very, very good lap for our race team. I did miss Turn 2 a little bit on my turning point, and felt like that I made that mistake and then the lap tracker showed that. But Ryan hit all four corners great and got it done. I’m happy for him. It’s got to be a big day for him, being a hometown boy and all. I’m very happy for Ryan and very happy for our team.
“Starting up front is important here. Hopefully we’ll have a good day tomorrow.”