INDIANAPOLIS — On the final qualifying run of the day, the “Rocket Man” shot to the top of the field.
Ryan Newman, a South Bend native and a Purdue graduate, won the pole Saturday for the 20th annual NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Brickyard.
Newman’s No. 39 Chevrolet set a new track record with a speed of 187.531 mph (47.992 seconds) and unseated four-time 400 winner Jimmie Johnson from atop the scoring pylon.
It’s Newman’s first pole at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and it’s his 50th career pole position, becoming the ninth driver in NASCAR history to notch 50 poles.
“I just am ecstatic,” Newman said. “It’s awesome because it’s my 50th. It’s awesome because it’s Indy and it’s a track record on top of that, so it’s like a double [ or] triple bonus.”
To get pole No. 50 at historic IMS and receive a loud ovation in his home state was meaningful to Newman.
“I got emotional on the backstretch when they told me that,” Newman said. “It’s special to me because it’s Indiana, but it’s more special to me because it’s the Brickyard, because it’s Indy, because of the history of auto racing at this facility.
“So many drivers who are my heroes, so many drivers I’ve admired, so many drivers that have worked so hard in their career to get to here on this day, to be the fastest on, that’s what’s the most special to me.”
It was announced two weeks ago that Newman would not be returning to Stewart/Haas Racing next season. After not having won a pole in nearly two years, the Rocket Man’s fast lap serves as a good reminder for perspective team owners.
“They made a move and that move makes me move and there’s no hard feelings,” Newman said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Obviously, this is a good step in publicity for me on the positive side, so we’ll see what we can do [today].”