LOUDON, N.H. – The two drivers in the Chase for the Nextel Cup for the first time certainly didn’t let the pressure get to them Friday at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Clint Bowyer won the pole for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 with a lap at 130.412 mph, knocking fellow Chase rookie Martin Truex Jr. to the outside of Row 1.
“Damn that Bowyer,” joked Truex Jr., who was hoping his lap of 130.255 mph would stand up for his first career Cup pole, in the interview room afterward.
“I am going to tackle him when he comes in here.”
No such horseplay ensued, but both drivers certainly seemed relaxed as they prepared to open the 10-race playoff.
Bowyer, to be honest, was elated to be in New Hampshire after spending parts of the previous two days in New York City helping to promote the Chase.
“I don’t know how ANYBODY lives there,” said Bowyer, a native of Emporia, Kan., making it clear he prefers the Midwest’s wider-open spaces to the cosmopolitan setting of New York.
Oddly enough, for the next 10 weeks Bowyer and his fellow Chasers will be working to maximize the time they’ll spend there following the season’s final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After all, the Chase winner will be the guest of honor at banquet activities there.
Bowyer’s not thinking about that, though. He’s trying to treat the next 10 races like a night at the local dirt tracks he came up on.
“All that matters is at the end of the year when you’re standing in line at the pay window,” he said.
"The only difference is there sometimes you had to wait until 5 or 6 in the morning to figure out what you were going to get.”
Bowyer is the only driver in the Chase who didn’t win a race in the regular season, so he’ll start the playoff in 12th place, 60 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
“The pressure is off of us,” Bowyer said.
“For us there’s only one way to go and that’s forward. Sitting on the pole for the first Chase race is a big step in that direction.”
Truex wanted to take that step, which also would have qualified him for next year’s Budweiser Shootout at Daytona. Bowyer was already in with a pole earlier this year at Darlington.
Instead, Truex will start second at a track where he led 46 laps and finished third earlier this year. Truex is from Mayetta, N.J., and has three victories and seven top-five finishes in his career at this track, much of that success in what’s now the Busch East Series.
“This is a special place for me,” Truex said. “I’ve been coming here for a long time and this track is a big part of the reason I’ve gotten the chances to do what I’ve got to do.”
Truex starts the Chase with 5,010 points, making him one of six drivers to start the playoff with that total. His victory came at Dover, his first career win that ignited a string of four top-three finishes in five races that propelled his No. 1 Chevrolet team into contention to make his first Chase.
With New Hampshire and Dover coming first and second in the Chase, Truex knows that he’s in position to start quickly.
“I think it’s very important for the confidence for my team,” he said.
“These are two great tracks for us. We need to capitalize on the places where we know we can run well.”
While the Chase rookies took the front-row spot, the three drivers who’ve won championships under the playoff format weren’t far behind. Kurt Busch, the 2004 champion, and Jimmie Johnson, last year’s Chase winner, will start on Row 2, and Tony Stewart, the 2005 champion, will start sixth alongside Ryan Newman on the third row.
As for the other Chasers, Kevin Harvick starts eighth. Carl Edwards will start 11th in a backup car after crashing his primary No. 99 Ford in practice. Kyle Busch starts 12th, Denny Hamlin 13th, Jeff Gordon 17th, Jeff Burton 23rd and Matt Kenseth 31st.
John Andretti’s qualifying lap, which was fast enough to get the No. 49 Dodge into the race, was disallowed when his car was too low on the left front in post-qualifying inspection. That put Andretti out of the race and put Boris Said back in.
Former Indy Car Series and Indianapolis 500 champion Sam Hornish Jr., looking to make his Nextel Cup debut, did not qualify. Dale Jarrett, Jeremy Mayfield, Michael Waltrip and Kevin Lepage also missed the show.