LOUDON, N.H. (AP) - Ryan Newman used a track-record lap to fuel his run at a championship.
Newman set the New Hampshire Motor Speedway qualifying record with a lap of 136.497 mph to win the pole and headline a top 12 loaded with Chase drivers for Sunday’s race.
Chase for the Sprint Cup championship drivers filled 10 of the top 12 spots Friday. Kasey Kahne was second and joins Newman on the front row, Jeff Gordon was third and Kurt Busch fourth for what will be the second Chase race.
Joey Logano qualified sixth, Kevin Harvick was eighth, series points leader and last week’s winner Matt Kenseth was ninth, and Greg Biffle starts 10th. Jimmie Johnson is 11th and Kyle Busch 12th.
Martin Truex Jr. starts fifth the same week he found out NAPA was dumping sponsorship of his Michael Waltrip Racing No. 56 car after the race-fixing attempts at Richmond earlier this month.
“This is definitely not the time of year you want to find out that you really don’t have a ride next year,” Truex said. “It’s going to be tough, but we’ll have to deal with it and figure it out.”
Truex did qualify for the Chase with NAPA last season, finishing 11th in points, and was in contention for the final Chase wild card berth at Richmond while driving with a broken wrist.
He got a new cast this week and still doesn’t know if he’ll need surgery at the end of the season.
The Chase moves on Sunday to New Hampshire, where NASCAR has a 13-driver championship field for the first time since the title-deciding format began in 2004.
Newman is eighth in the standings, certainly within striking distance of Kenseth. He won his second pole of the season and 51st in 432 career Cup races. Newman won from the pole this season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Newman, who is leaving Stewart-Haas Racing for a 2014 ride with Richard Childress, has three career wins at New Hampshire.
“This track is the birthplace of track position,” he said. “It is really difficult to pass. Having a good pit selection, having all those things we’ve had to many times before (helps). Last time we were on the pole here, we led a lot of laps and won. I’m hoping we can duplicate that again.”
The rest of the Chase field saw Clint Bowyer start 16th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 17th. Earnhardt is 13th in the Chase standings and was disgusted on the grid after his poor lap.
“The car just hadn’t been turning well and the front end is a bit of a handful,” he said.
NASCAR would love for the talk of the sport to return to racing and the Chase and not the scandal that rocked the sport. NASCAR took the unprecedented step of adding Gordon as a 13th driver and booted Truex from the field.
Gordon, a four-time champion, was sixth in Chicago and has four straight top-10 finishes to work his way up to seventh in the standings.
“We are in it and we want to show everyone why we are in it,” Gordon said. “I think we had the last three races leading into Chicago. We were pretty good, but previously in the season we just have had our struggles. We have had missed opportunities and it’s hard to always put your finger on what exactly has caused those things.”