TALLADEGA, Ala. (Oct. 1, 2004) – All four cars entered by Penske Racing South in Sunday’s EA Sports 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race qualified Friday for the event with title contender Ryan Newman leading the quartet.
Newman’s lap of 189.017 mph, or 50.662 seconds, on the 2.66-mile track made him 19th quickest in the 43-car field and the third fastest Dodge.
“That was pretty good for us. Usually, we stay the same and everybody else picks up a little bit,” said Newman, who was 10th quickest in practice in his ALLTEL Dodge at 188.738 mph, or 50.737 seconds.
“We’re just happy to get qualifying done for me, personally, and get into the racing stuff.”
Rookie Brendan Gaughan was next in the Penske lineup, nailing down the 26th starting position in his Kodak EasyShare Dodge with a 188.768-mph lap. That’s 50.729 seconds.
Chad Blount, who has done extensive testing for Penske but is making his first start in a Penske-prepared car, claimed the 31st starting position in his Mobil 1 Dodge with a 188.082-mph, or 50.914-second, lap.
Veteran Rusty Wallace rounded out the Penske contingent in his Miller Lite Dodge with a 188.030-mph, or 50.928-second lap, which left him 33rd.
“There’s nothing I could do about it,” Wallace said after his two qualifying laps for the season’s final restrictor-plate race. “She was wide open all the way round there. She just needs more engine or something.
“We thought we did everything we needed to make it better for qualifying. I could tell on the tach it wasn’t doing anything different than it did in practice.”
Wallace was 27th-fastest in practice at 188.004 mph, or 50.935 seconds.
“It’s consistent, but we just need more power or less drag,” he continued. “The engine just feels like it’s probably about 15 horsepower off. We’ve got really good engines, but we’ve just got to get the restrictor-plate thing better.
“Tomorrow, we’ll put the race setup in it and get it ready for drafting. That’s the whole big deal, to make it drive good in the race.”
Gaughan, however, was happy with his qualifying effort since he gained three-tenths from practice. His quickest lap in practice – 188.326 mph or 50.848 seconds - had left him 18th on the practice chart.
“The guys were able to lay the spoiler back a little bit. You go out and run and try to run conservative and NASCAR, in the [inspection] line, let us drop it a little bit,” Gaughan said after qualifying. “We knew we were going to be a little bit quicker.
“We nailed the lap. Buddy Baker [former NASCAR driver and coach] has us in the right groove and we went everywhere we wanted. Baker has shown me you can do a lot at these places getting up to speed.”
In the third of 10 races that comprise the “Chase for the Championship,” all of the drivers in the title battle except for Tony Stewart qualified in the top 20. Stewart will go off 30th.
“You’ve got to handle the competition here,” says Newman, who is eighth in the point standings, 107 points behind leader Jeff Gordon. “Handling on the race track is not a big deal here, but handling the competition is. You could lay back here in the race if you had to Sunday. I have before. I did last year.
“Bottom line is the best place to be is out front. If you can stay there, you stay there. If you get stuck in the middle, you want to go to the back. It’s a hard judgment to make. We’ve finished the last three restrictor-plate races, so it’s been good for us in that respect.”