Qual: Newman's pole

Penske's Ryan Newman, fighting to hold a spot in NASCAR's Nextel Cup playoff picture, tore off a lap in 20.979s (128.700mph) to lock up the pole for Saturday night's 400 at Richmond International Raceway. This is the final race in the 'race for the chase' and after that, if you're not in the top ten, you're just racing for honour

Qual: Newman's pole

On a slick track during a warm, humid afternoon, Newman set the pace in practice, more than a tenth of a second ahead of Kasey Kahne and two-tenths ahead of Jimmie Johnson. He followed up in the time trials, nudging veteran Mark Martin from the top spot by more than a tenth.

Martin, on the bubble in NASCAR's "chase", was the early front-runner at 21.192s and barely fended off points leader Johnson, who ran 21.195s. Newman, 37th among 52 entries, then put up the session's fast time. Newman, 11-time pole winner last season, won his fifth of this year but only his second since early April.

Stone-faced, logical Newman isn't likely to rattle, despite being just 45 points above the cut-off mark. "It's like any other race," he said. "In the grand scheme of things it has more weight on it, but it's just another race. Like anything else, if you can stay focused and maintain your own mentality, you'll be fine.

"Actually, I've slept a lot this week, more than I should. I've been sick, and I'm still kind of sick. I'm still trying to get over it. I would have said I was 100 percent Wednesday, but I actually feel a little worse today."

Joe Nemechek earned the fourth position and Jeff Burton, in the improving RCR No. 30, was fifth. The two were tied at 21.225s, but Nemechek received the spot for making his run before Burton.

Jeff Gordon, second in points, will start ninth, and Dale Earnhardt, third in the standings, goes 14th. The others in the top 10, in order, are Tony Stewart (15th in trials), Matt Kenseth (16th), Elliott Sadler (20th), Kurt Busch (17th), Newman, Kahne (11th) and Martin.

Of those still with a shot at making the playoff, Jamie McMurray made only 36th, Bobby Labonte is 18th, Dale Jarrett goes 25th, Jeremy Mayfield starts seventh, and Kevin Harvick is 27th.

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