Newman, 24, keeps youth on move

He wins California pole as top 5 finishers break track qualifying record

Auto Racing

April 27, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

FONTANA, Calif. - Kids always have loved to drive fast.

Yesterday, as evening hurried to blanket California Speedway in darkness and temperatures turned unseasonable cold, rookie Ryan Newman took a record-setting joyride and won the pole for tomorrow's NAPA Auto Parts 500.

Newman, 24, broke the 2-year-old track qualifying record held by Mike Skinner by 1.371 mph with his lap of 187.432 in his Mobil 1/ALLTEL Ford. Second-year driver Kurt Busch, 23, was second fastest and one of five drivers who broke the track mark.

"It's becoming a common thing to start behind these young guys," said 1999 Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett, who qualified third. "Usually, I'm way behind."

Jarrett, 45, found himself surrounded by the sport's youth movement. Rookie Jimmie Johnson, 26, will start beside him in fourth.

The pole was Newman's second of the season and he said it comes at a time that can really help his team. After starting the season with four top-10 finishes in five races, he has been 40th or worst in his last three and is currently 21st in points.

"When I won the pole in Charlotte, I didn't expect it," Newman said. "Here, I knew we had a good race car and I was a little optimistic. Now, the whole team feels good about this. We're excited because we beat everybody today and we feel we can keep that going.

"The weather conditions might change by race day, but I think the biggest things - the aerodynamics and horsepower - they don't change from Friday to Sunday. It's been a pretty good weekend, so far."

The weather seemed to play a major role in the outcome of qualifying. A gray morning turned ugly by noon with heavy clouds and rain wiping out Busch series qualifying and pushing the Winston Cup qualifying to 5 p.m.

"The wind, the temperature and the sun that wasn't out there today made a big difference," said Busch.

And Newman explained further.

"The rain cooled the track and made it more humid, which makes the air thicker, which makes the down force better," said the pole-sitter.

"The temperature went from the 70s to what felt like 40 or 45 degrees. It was a pretty drastic change and it meant you could go in the corners faster. And, it meant drivers had to change their driving style. Some drivers were less apt to do that."

Newman wouldn't go so far as to say it was the younger drivers who were better able or more willing to adapt. He pointed out that a few weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway the conditions changed and it was Bill Elliott, 46, who came out of nowhere to win the pole.

"Different nuts fall off different trees," said Newman.

Still, the young drivers are showing up more and more in the front of the fields. Newman calls it "an on-going generational change."

"When I was 15 - gosh that's almost 10 years ago now - I watched Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt win a lot," he said. "And at that time, they were just starting to take over from Buddy Baker, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough. I don't feel like I grew up watching old guys.

"They were in their 30s. The younger guys now are in their 20s, and we're getting better rides than those guys started with. But I think that's because when we've arrived at the Winston Cup door, we already had 20 years experience. I started racing quarter-midgets when I was 4 1/2 ."

Newman, by the way, is in the quarter-midget Hall of Fame.

NOTE: For the second time in two weeks, a Winston Cup car owner has been injured in an accident. Thursday night, Junie Donlavey, who owns the No. 90 Taurus, was involved in a car accident with team manager Jason Hedlesky as they drove from Riverside airport to their hotel in Pomona. Donlavey, who was driving, sustained a couple of cracked ribs on his left side and has a cracked right kneecap. Hedlesky did not receive any major injuries, but both men were taken to Kaiser Hospital in Fontana. They were treated and released.

Last weekend, car owner Jack Roush was in critical condition after suffering a head injury in a small-plane crash in Alabama. Roush has made a strong recovery and is expected to take part in a conference call with media members this morning.



NAPA 500

Tomorrow at Fontana, Calif. Distance: 500 miles, 250 laps 1. (12) Ryan Newman, Ford, 187.432 mph.

2. (97) Kurt Busch, Ford, 187.412.

3. (88) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 186.853.

4. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 186.620.

5. (25) Jerry Nadeau, Chevrolet, 186.244.

6. (15) Michael Waltrip, Chevrolet, 185.898.

7. (21) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 185.763.

8. (20) Tony Stewart, Pontiac, 185.481.

9. (8) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 185.433.

10. (2) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 185.304.

11. (10) Johnny Benson, Pontiac, 185.185.

12. (7) Casey Atwood, Dodge, 185.104.

13. (26) Joe Nemechek, Ford,

185.076. 14. (19) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 184.966.

15. (32) Ricky Craven, Ford, 184.933.

16. (30) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 184.933.

17. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 184.905.

18. (1) Steve Park, Chevrolet, 184.876.

19. (45) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 184.862.

20. (17) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 184.767.

21. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 184.663.

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