By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001
CONCORD, N.C. -- It turns out last weekend's Winston Open was more than just Ryan Newman showing he could run with NASCAR's best. It was also a warning.
Newman had a fast lap of 29.155 seconds at Lowe's Motor Speedway Thursday night to claim the pole for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.
Newman guided his No. 02 Ford around the 1.5-mile speedway faster than any of the other 49 would-be qualifiers, tying up the No. 1 position in his third Winston Cup race.
"That was a great lap," Newman said. "My crew chief did a great job of getting the car ready for tonight and that first lap was good enough."
Newman owns the overall Lowe's Motor Speedway track record of 28.911 seconds in an ARCA car.
He joins elite company in earning the pole this early in his career. Mark Martin won the pole position at Nashville in his third Winston Cup race and Johnny Benson did it in his fourth race.
Points leader Dale Jarrett crashed in Turn 3 and will start 37th overall in the 43-car field.
Qualifying was delayed 2 hours, 35 minutes because of rain.
BACK IN THE SADDLE: Two Winston Cup drivers are set to get back behind the wheel during the Busch Series CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 Saturday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive Joe Nemechek's No. 87 Chevrolet, filling in for the driver who broke his shoulder and arm in a crash while testing May 15. The race will mark Earnhardt Jr.'s first Busch appearance since he won his second straight championship in 1999. Nemechek will be replaced by Bobby Hamilton Jr. in the Winston Cup race.
Michael Waltrip will jump back into the driver's seat of his No. 99 Chevrolet after giving way to Shawna Robinson the past three races.
Waltrip has let Robinson and Kerry Earnhardt drive races on his 18-race limited schedule this season but decided Sunday's was one he had to pilot himself.
In 22 starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Waltrip has two wins, nine top fives, nine top 10s and one pole.
IN AND OUT: Terry Labonte requested the first qualifying run so he could leave the track in time to see his daughter, Kristen, graduate from high school in nearby High Point.
WHERE'S REGIS?: Sterling Marlin gave his take on being one of the Winston bonus drivers who could win $1-million for a fan if he wins Sunday.
"I guess it's kind of like Who Wants to be a Millionaire without having to answer all the questions and the drivers are the only lifelines," Marlin said.
SHORT PRACTICE: The two-hour practice session was cut about 30 minutes short as track officials picked up after Dave Blaney's one-car accident.
Blaney slammed the right side of his No. 93 Dodge into the wall, forcing the team to switch to a backup car for a qualifying run.