INDIANAPOLIS - Jimmie Johnson was the eleventh qualifier of 45 during Saturday's Brickyard 400 qualifying, which meant a long wait on pit road to find out if his record-breaking time would make it to the official .
The four-time Brickyard winner and five-time Sprint Cup champ passed the time doing a live interview with ESPN. He met with a bullpen of print and online media. He shook hands, slapped backs and made conversation with drivers who couldn't measure up to his lap. He otherwise just mingled among team members, special guests and the roar of competitors on their flying laps as he waited to hopefully celebrate a Brickyard pole. The especially mild Indianapolis temperatures made it a good day to just hang out and wait.
One by one, a few competitors inched closer. Kurt Busch turned a lap just two-tenths of a second slower. Denny Hamlin and then Carl Edwards drew even closer. But they all came up short. Johnson's second pole at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was in sight.
Then the 45th-qualifier took the track, and it was all for naught.
Ryan Newman, the Indiana-born driver with a penchant for being especially quick in qualifying, surprised the hometown crowd with a blistering lap of 187.531 mph. The public address announcer boomed of the lap being a new track record in the vein of Tom Carnegie. The fans roared.
Johnson could only smile, knocked to a second-place starting spot Sunday after an hour of hoping for one spot better.
Newman scored his first career pole at Indianapolis and his 50th overall in Sprint Cup competition, and did it in a car decaled with logos promoting a new movie featuring The Smurfs.
"That was honestly the fastest I've ever seen Papa Smurf go," Newman said later, chuckling.
It was a big moment for Newman, a driver with a full appreciation of the Brickyard thanks to his personal roots. His sister lives nearby, his parents still live in the northern part of the state. And don't forget the news Newman was dealt just two weeks ago when team owner and friend Tony Stewart announced that the addition of Kevin Harvick to the Stewart-Haas Racing stable in 2014 meant no room at the inn for Newman.
"It's special to me because it's Indiana, but it's more special because it's the Brickyard, because it's Indy and because of the history of auto racing," Newman said. "I admire so many drivers who have worked so hard in their career to get to here, and on this day, to be the best, that's what is special."
Third-place qualifier Carl Edwards felt empathy for Johnson - but not too much.
"Second it the worst, you guys. It's the worst to qualify second, and nobody wants anybody to go through what Jimmie just had to go through," Edwards said. "We all don't feel too bad for Jimmie, but it was pretty dramatic. I didn't really expect that."
Johnson wasn't really worried. He's won four of the last seven NASCAR races at Indianapolis.
"It's got to be a big day for (Newman), being a hometown boy and all. (I'm) very happy for Ryan and very happy for our team," Johnson said. "Starting up front is important here. Hopefully we'll have a good day tomorrow."
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