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Penske trio makes strong showing in qualifying

By Lee Montgomery, Turner Sports Interactive February 20, 2004
6:02 PM EST (2302 GMT)

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- When you have got a guy named Ryan Newman driving one of your cars, chances are excellent you will have a good qualifying day.

Newman, of course, was lightning fast at North Carolina Speedway, winning the pole Friday with a 156.475 mph lap. Winning the Bud Pole is nothing new for Newman, for he's won 19 poles in his 82 career starts.

But Penske Racing was more than Newman on Friday. Rusty Wallace, for a moment, was the polesitter, and he ended up qualifying fourth with a lap of 154.644 mph.

In his first Cup race at The Rock, Brendan Gaughan is trying to learn from his Penske mates. Credit: Autostock

And don't forget about rookie Brendan Gaughan, whose first qualifying attempt at Rockingham was a solid 15th-place effort.

There was some interaction between the three teams, but most of it was between Gaughan's team and the other two. Newman and Wallace both tested here, but their setups are different, so there really isn't a good way to share much information.

"I don't necessarily do what Rusty does because we both came here and tested," Newman said. "We drive different and like different things because of the way we drive. It's Rockingham, and I've raced here four times now in the Cup series. It's not like I was in dire need of knowing what's going on. Nevertheless, I'm sure there have been some notes have changed hands."

Newman has won three poles in five races at the 1.017-mile track, while Wallace has started in the top 10 in nine of the last 13 races here.

"We've got a real hot rod for this track," Wallace said. "We had to make some big changes to the front springs when we first got here... Ryan laid down a heck of a lap. I expected that. I didn't expect to be that fast, but I did expect a good lap."

Wallace preceded Newman in qualifying and went to the top of the leaderboard. He didn't stay there long, for Newman immediately knocked Wallace off the pole.

Gaughan didn't get close to either of them, especially on his first lap. He was in provisional land on the first attempt but was able to put down a good lap on the second.

"We barely saved it on the qualifying lap and ended up having to make it on the second lap," Gaughan said. "Not many guys come here and gain two-tenths on their second, which means that I screwed up royally on the first one or we had a good car and just got lucky on the second one."

Gaughan's No. 77 team had a good car, thanks to his teammates. Crew chief Shane Wilson talked to Newman's crew chief, Matt Borland, and Wallace's, Larry Carter.

Ryan Newman and crew chief Matt Borland are no strangers to the Bud Pole board. Credit: Autostock

"They helped us a lot," Gaughan said. "Right before we went out and qualified, we talked to Larry and Matt. The crew chiefs got together and did their little pow-wow. That's what's fun about being part of this Penske-Jasper gang.

"It's fun to have teammates like that and be surrounded by great people. That's what's helped us get the Kodak Dodge running."

Gaughan also talked to Newman, but that wasn't much help.

"I talked to Ryan about qualifying right before I went out," Gaughan said. "I said, 'Where are you lifting?' He points, and I go, 'Good, good!' I walked away and said, 'Oh, am I in trouble.'"

Of course, everyone was in trouble Friday with Newman being so fast. That doesn't stop Wallace from being confident for Sunday's race.

"We've got two good cars," Wallace said. "We both tested. We both ran good. We tested to try to figure out the softer tire and shorter spoiler. I felt like it was necessary we did that, and now it's paying off.

"I think I'm going to win Sunday, I really do. I feel really good about it. We ran good in practice, and we've got a great car."

There were three good Penske cars Friday.

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