If Ryan Newman could find a way to shift his qualifying magic to the races he would be a solid contender for the Nextel Cup.
Newman, one of 10 who qualified for the new 10-race championship run on NASCAR's top circuit, easily won his series-leading ninth pole of the season and fourth in a row in qualifying Friday.
This one, the 27th pole in 114 races for the racer known as Rocketman, was a record effort. His lap of 135.499 mph in a Dodge easily topped the mark of 134.178 set in 2000 by teammate Rusty Wallace.
It was Newman's third straight pole here. Unfortunately, for the third-year Cup star, none of the poles this season has resulted in victory. Newman's only win came in June at Michigan, where he started fourth.
His last three poles, giving him a chance to rebound from some early adversity in the championship chase, have resulted in finishes of 14th, third and 17th. That has left the Penske Racing South driver seventh in the standings heading into Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500.
Newman hasn't given up despite trailing series leader Kurt Busch by 186 points with only three races remaining.
"We're definitely in the chase mathematically," Newman said. "Is it a long shot? Sure."
Newman is aware of his failure to take advantage of starting positions.
"You win some and you lose some, whether it's on Friday or Sunday," he said. "It's not necessarily disappointing, we just wish we could have capitalized on having the fastest race car."