LONG POND, Pa. -- Ryan Newman left no doubt about who has the car to catch at Pocono Raceway when he backed up the fastest practice speed with his fifth pole of the season in qualifying Friday.
Newman hustled his Dodge around the 2 1/2-mile triangular track at 170.358 mph to claim the top starting spot for Sunday's Pennsylvania 500. He continued to demonstrate his liking for the track, where he qualified second seven weeks ago before finishing fifth in the Pocono 500.
On a day when most drivers took one lap and shut down because the second was expected to be slower, Newman tried to go even faster.
"I didn't get the first lap that I wanted, so I ran the second," he said. "It's a good way to start the weekend and a big morale booster for the team."
His second-lap speed of 170.007 came up short, but was faster than the best of any other qualifier.
Newman extended his Winston Cup series lead in poles this year.
"I told the crew earlier in the season that if they gave me a straight arrow, I'd shoot it straight," he said.
He will be going for his fourth victory of the season -- which would give him the series lead -- and fifth overall.
The Purdue graduate has established himself as the best qualifier in the NASCAR. He led with six poles last year and has 12 overall.
"It's definitely important," he said of the poles, but tempered that. "If you can't get to the end, it doesn't do you any good."
Despite the victories and seven finishes in the top five, Newman is 13th in the points. The reason is six results of 39th or worse in 19 races.
"But we're finishing races now, and that's a big improvement over the first half of the season," he said.
The speed Newman posted did not approach Tony Stewart's 3-year-old track-record of 172.391, but was good enough to hold off June Pocono polesitter Jimmie Johnson. He took the outside of the front row in his Chevrolet with a lap at 169.821.
"This is a place where we've really learned how to qualify well," Johnson said. "Too bad I wasn't just a little faster to catch Ryan."
He said speed is not necessarily the most important factor at Pocono.
"You have to have track position," he explained. "And fuel mileage is very important.
Johnson won last Sunday in New Hampshire in part by saving gas over the last quarter of the race.
Elliott Sadler was third in a Ford at 169.246. He was delighted with his lap, a vast change from his earlier mood.
"That was the worst hour-and-a-half of my life in practice," he said. "We were about 40th on the sheet, and I felt like committing suicide."
But changes on the car brought him up to sixth-fastest by the end of the session and set the stage for his outstanding qualifying lap.
He will line up on the inside of the second row, flanked by three-time Pocono winner Bobby Labonte, who went 168.932 in a Chevrolet.
John Andretti qualified fifth by touring the track at 168.925 in just his second start in the Haas CNC Racing Pontiac.
Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, points leader Matt Kenseth and rookie Casey Mears completed the top 10.
Wallace has four victories on the mountaintop, Jarrett three and Labonte two.
Defending race champion Bill Elliott -- the biggest winner in Pocono history -- will start 11th as he seeks his sixth victory here.