Ryan Newman must be close to perfect the rest of the way to win the Nextel Cup championship, and he took a positive step by grabbing the pole yesterday for the Subway 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

"It's a good start to the entire weekend," said Newman, ninth among 10 drivers and 271 points behind series leader Kurt Busch halfway through NASCAR's 10-race playoff.

Newman needs outstanding finishes in the final five races, and quite a bit of good luck. The narrow half-mile oval at Martinsville -- where bunched fields frequently lead to crashes -- might be a good place to find a little good fortune.

Like six of the other drivers in the title chase, Newman can't contend without bad finishes by Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, who have been turning the competition into a three-way battle.

"We're looking for places to make up major ground because we need that now," Newman said. "We're not out of the championship by any means. We're not in the best position, but we'll keep our nose to the grindstone."

* BUSCH SERIES: Points leader Martin Truex Jr. won his seventh pole of the season in qualifying at Memphis Motorsports Park.

Truex, 144 points ahead of Kyle Busch, sped around the three-quarter-mile oval in a Chevrolet at 120.198 mph. But that lap -- just off Jeff Green's four-year-old qualifying record of 120.267 -- was achieved only after some hard work.

Truex, a five-time winner on the circuit this season, had the second-fastest lap in practice behind Ron Hornaday. But adjustments before qualifying gave Truex the top spot for today's Sam's Town 250.

-- From News Services

Ryan Newman, right, talks with his crew chief, Matt Borland. Newman is ninth among 10 drivers and 271 points behind series leader Kurt Busch.