LOUDON, N.H. — Ryan Newman has won the pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Tony Stewart was second to give Stewart-Haas Racing a front-row sweep.
Newman turned a track-record lap of 135.232 mph Friday and Stewart, his boss and teammate, was right behind at 135.064. They were the only drivers to top 135 mph.
David Reutimann, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski round out the top five.
Newman won his first pole of the season, a far cry from the 20 combined poles he earned in 2003-04.
He hopes the strong start will translate into his first victory of the season. Newman enters Sunday’s Sprint Cup race ninth in the points standings.
Receiver criticizes Johnson
LOUDON, N.H. — Jimmie Johnson has a pair of titles he’s especially proud to have linked to his name. NASCAR champion. AP Male Athlete of the Year.
Yes, that’s right. The five-time champion driver is an athlete, too.
Johnson was swept into a brief Twitter feud this week because of his inclusion as a nominee for male athlete of the year at the ESPY Awards. Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate posted on his account, (at)ShowtimeTate, “Jimmy johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo .. Driving a car does not show athleticism.”
He continued to tweak Johnson, angering NASCAR fans. Tate later posted, “12th man get these rednecks off me.”
Johnson mostly laughed off the barbs Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and invited Tate to the track to learn more about NASCAR.
Kentucky problem addressed
LOUDON, N.H. — NASCAR President Mike Helton called the traffic gridlock at the inaugural Sprint Cup Series at Kentucky a “very serious issue” that must be corrected.
NASCAR is working with Kentucky Speedway officials to find out why fans were stuck in traffic for hours as they tried to get into Saturday night’s race at the track in Sparta, Ky., Helton said.
NASCAR “won’t rest” until it figures out what went wrong and how to correct the problems, Helton said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Many fans say once they got to the gate, they were turned away by police because the track had run out of parking spaces.
“We’re sorry for the fans that were touched by that unfortunate episode,” Helton said. “We will not let this fall to the wayside until we get resolution to it.”
Helton said there were numerous meetings with track officials and other organizations and was confident a proper plan was in place. Kentucky Speedway had held Truck Series and Nationwide Series races in the past without the massive congestion on I-71. The state spent millions of dollars over the last decade to improve the infrastructure around the venue in hopes of one day getting a Cup date. Yet widening the interstate to three lanes for a couple of miles heading north to Cincinnati did little to expedite traffic.
“What I think we have an interest in is finding out exactly what happened Saturday night, did all those changes contribute to that and did it really maybe compound the situation,” Helton said. “Was there overconfidence from the fact they had raced there for 10 years and not taken in full consideration of the physical changes that were taking place. Those are the kind of questions we’l l have to get to the bottom of to figure out the solution.”
Helton has not talked to any Kentucky government officials since Saturday afternoon.
Kentucky Speedway on Monday offered a ticket exchange to fans who missed the inaugural Sprint Cup Series race because of traffic.
Speedway Motorsports Inc. president Marcus Smith said fans can swap their unused Kentucky tickets for entry into events at any 2011 race at an SMI track. The tickets also can be swapped for entry into the 2012 race at Kentucky.
“I know that we all work on a common goal of making the experience for race fans,” appealing, Helton said. “Along the way, we have hiccups.”