HAMPTON (AP) — On the advice of his teammate, Tony Stewart took the high road
He wound up with the pole for Sunday night's NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Stewart turned a fast lap of 186.121 mph on Friday to take his first pole of the season and second of his career at the 1.54-mile tri-oval. He also was on the pole at Atlanta for the season finale in 2002, setting him up to clinch the first of his three Cup titles.
This time, Stewart hopes starting at the front helps him lock down his spot in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup title. He is the defending champion and, as a three-time winner this season, all but assured of at least a wild-card spot in the playoff. But if he drops below his current position, 10th, he'll lose nine bonus points that could be very valuable in the quest for a second straight title.
While never known as a strong qualifier — this was only his 14th career pole — Stewart took advantage of a timely tip from teammate Ryan Newman. The Rocket failed to tie the Atlanta record for most poles, settling for the 17th-fastest speed, but he came all the way down pit road to pass along what he thought was the best line to take on the sticky track.
Stay high, Newman said, instead of the customary line along the bottom that most drivers take because it's a bit shorter.
Turns out, he was right on the mark.
"That pole is 100 percent due to Ryan Newman," Stewart said. "I'm not sure if we'd have run the line I'd planned on running we'd have been that fast. It's awesome having a teammate like that. I don't ever remember being here and seeing anybody run up at the top like he did."
Coming off a helmet-throwing episode at Bristol last weekend, Stewart made peace with Matt Kenseth before the qualifying session, then showed he intends to be a force at the next-to-last race before the playoff begins.
"I'm definitely not known as a qualifier," Stewart said. "I want to run a good lap every time, but I know the bigger prize is on Sunday."
Greg Biffle (185.648) will start on the outside of the front row for the AdvoCare 500. Kyle Busch (185.493) and Kenseth (185.319) took spots on the second row.
Michael McDowell, Josh Wise, Stephen Leicht and Mike Bliss failed to make the 43-car field.