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Ryan Newman takes Sprint Cup pole in New Hampshire

NASCAR New Hampshire Auto Racing
Jim Cole - AP
Driver Ryan Newman gets a surprise hug from Martin Truex Jr., after winning the pole position for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Friday, Sept. 20,, 2013 in Loudon, NH (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

LOUDON, N.H. If Ryan Newman could pick a pole to win, the New Hampshire Chase race would be right there at the top.

“This is the birthplace of track position. Qualifying well, having that No. 1 pit stall and clean air (matter),” Newman said. “This is a place where it’s really tough to pass.”

Newman won the pole for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 with a lap of 136.497 mph. It was a qualifying record for the track and the seventh time Newman has won a pole in New Hampshire.

Two other Chevrolet drivers, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, qualified second and third.

Gordon agreed that being up front from the start is important at this track.

“This place is very tricky on restarts because you just don’t get the grip,” Gordon said. “There’s not enough banking.”

Truex’s future: Martin Truex Jr. has obviously had a rough week, with NAPA announcing it is stripping sponsorship from the No. 56 Toyota after this season. Truex bounced back Friday, qualifying fifth.

Michael Waltrip Racing is scrambling to replace NAPA in time to retain Truex as a driver. Asked where he stands, Truex said on Fox’s telecast, “I wish I knew, I wish I could say. It’s so late in the season. This is not a good time of year not to know if you really have a ride next year.”

Waltrip said Friday he told Truex he wouldn’t block him from signing a deal elsewhere, but that he still hopes to field three race teams next season.

Kenseth easy-going: Chase leader Matt Kenseth has had a seamless transition to driving for Joe Gibbs Racing this season. He credited that to not arriving with a slew of preconceived notions.

“I walked in there with my eyes and ears open. I didn’t bring anything like, ‘Hey, well this is the way I like it. Well, hey, I like to do things like this,’” Kenseth said.

“Everybody has their things – driver-comfort stuff. ... But really, I never walked in with a ‘This needs to be like that (attitude).’ I just tried to fit into what they were doing.”

Teammate Kyle Busch, who is second in the Chase race, said the team knew it was getting a great resource when it added Kenseth.

“Kenseth is very knowledgeable. We’ve known that,” Busch said. “I think that’s why we went to him and asked him to come over and join our team.”

Nothing to lose for Junior: Dale Earnhardt Jr. had incredibly bad luck in the first Chase race a week ago, when his engine blew with about 40 laps remaining at Chicagoland. That leaves Earnhardt last among the 13 Chase drivers, 53 points off leader Matt Kenseth’s pace.

Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, said such a bad finish in the first Chase race makes for interesting decisions by Earnhardt’s team.

“In that position you have absolutely nothing to lose,” Gordon said Friday. “You can just go completely outside the box and go for broke and make very gutsy calls on pit road. You can be more aggressive as a driver. The engineers can be more aggressive in the setup as well.

“I think they are looking at it like, ‘Listen, unless something miraculous happens, we’re not going to get back into this thing’ to the level they would like to. There is a part of you that says, ‘Let’s just see how high up in the points we can get,’ and another part that says, ‘Let’s just go for broke, and if we get on a heck of a roll, we can still do this.’”

Restart reaction: NASCAR tweaked the restart rule before Chicagoland. The race leader continues to control the front of the restart zone, but now, once the green flag is dropped, the second-place driver can beat the leader to the start-finish line without penalty.

NASCAR had frequent, difficult judgment calls on restart protocol. Gordon said this new rule will help avoid some unintended consequences.

“It was just causing chaos five and 10 rows back – people running into one another, damaging cars,” Gordon said of the old rule. “Now it seems like both lanes flow evenly to Turn One. There’s not as much of a disadvantage to the other lane – the No. 2 car lane. Seems like (the) No. 1 car lane would take off a little quicker and that momentum would carry all the way through the first turn.”

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @Rick_Bonnell
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