When it comes to turning one fast lap, Ryan Newman simply has no peer in the NASCAR garage.
And he proved it again Friday at Dover International Speedway, where he strapped in two different racecars and ripped off the fastest lap in qualifying for two different races to secure the honor of starting first in Saturday's Grand National race, the Dover 200, and, far more importantly, Sunday's MBNA RacePoints 400 -- the second race in NASCAR's 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup.
Newman vaulted from seventh to third in the standings after winning last Sunday's race -- his first victory of the season -- at Loudon, N.H. And his winning ways continued Friday at Dover, where he won the pole for the weekend's main event by circling the one-mile oval in his No. 2 Dodge at 158.102 mph. Newman was the only driver to top 158 mph and will line up beside the Dodge of Kasey Kahne (157.074 mph).
Making up the second row are the Chevrolets of rookie Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. It's the second consecutive week that Earnhardt has qualified among the top five, an indication that his recent reunion with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. is already paying dividends.
Conditions were hot and steamy on the track as 48 drivers took turns making two qualifying laps around the high-banked oval known as the Monster Mile. Newman won this race last year, and his confidence showed as he whipped around the corners leaving precious little margin for error.
"Dover is a really fast racetrack, and when you're off that usually means that the wall is coming closer to you at a faster speed than you want it to," said Newman, who earned his sixth pole of the season and the 33rd of his career. "It's just a really fun track when everything is working just right."
Things worked relatively well for half the drivers in the Chase. Five qualified among the top 10. In addition to Newman, they were: Jimmie Johnson (fifth), Rusty Wallace (sixth), Mark Martin (seventh) and Kurt Busch (10th.) The rest of the contenders qualified farther back, with Tony Stewart (31st) and Carl Edwards (32nd) struggling the most.
Stewart currently leads the standings, with a 20-point advantage over Greg Biffle, but downplayed any concerns about starting so far back in the pack.
"It wasn't a stellar lap by any means," Stewart said. "We've started in the mid-20s for the two races that we won here, so we're not too concerned about a wreck."
Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty announced Friday that he's a driving force behind a new sprint-car league that will start in 2006. To be called the National SprintCar League, the circuit has already siphoned off the biggest names in sprint-car racing -- including 19-time World of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser and Danny Lasoski -- and has a commitment from three-time champion Sammy Swindell. It will be owned by the Richard Petty Driving Experience. The schedule, which is under development, will include stops at Eldora Speedway in Ohio, Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania and Knoxville Raceway in Iowa. The league is also seeking sponsorship and a broadcast deal.