ROCKINGHAM, N.C., Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Ryan Newman won the pole Friday for Sunday's Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 with a speed of 155.836 miles per hour around the 1.017-mile North Carolina Speedway.
It was Newman's sixth career Winston Cup pole in 42 starts and his fifth this season, which ties him with the late Davey Allison for most poles during his rookie season.
"You can just the drive the car real hard in qualifying," said the 24-year-old Purdue University engineering graduate. "You don't have to necessarily have the finesse of driving it really hard for so many laps. You can just go out there and run as hard as you can and I think maybe that's one of the things that has been a benefit."
Newman currently leads the Rookie of the Year Award by 20 points over Jimmie Johnson. Newman has one Winston Cup victory this season while Johnson has three.
"It would mean a lot to win the rookie championship," Newman said. "I'm 24 years old and I've been driving cars for 20 years. I've got a ton of experience and you have to have experience to get to the Winston Cup level.
"You're still classified as a rookie, but you have a lot of experience. I guess if you can get all the combinations right as far as teamwork and chemistry and cars, engines and reliability, then good things happen."
Ironically, the rookie driver had to knock off a driver who will not be considered a rookie until next season -- Jamie McMurray. Filling in for Sterling Marlin while he recovers from a neck injury, McMurray qualified second with a lap at 154.540 mph in a Dodge.
McMurray won in his second Winston Cup attempt at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte on October 13. But for his first three Winston Cup starts in Talladega, Charlotte and Atlanta, qualifications were rained out and the driver benefited from starting near the front because of Winston Cup car owner points.
Friday was actually the first time he had to make a qualification attempt for a Winston Cup race.
"This is the first Winston Cup race I've qualified for on speed and we qualified second," McMurray said. "Realistically, I would have two provisional starting positions and a second so far. It makes it better so you guys don't rag on me why I won a race and now I'm in provisional land. So yeah, it makes it easier on me."
Todd Bodine qualified third in a Ford at 154.461 mph followed by Mike Skinner's 154.364 mph in a Chevrolet and Mark Martin's 154.149 mph in a Ford.
Tony Stewart enters this race with a 146-point lead over Martin with three races remaining in the battle for the Winston Cup title. Stewart had a disappointing qualifying performance and will start 24th -- 19 positions behind Martin.
"It wasn't terrible, it just didn't go any faster in qualifying," Stewart said. "It was just loose. But qualifying has never really been our deal here. We've never really torn it up, but we always seem to race well, so we'll be all right. We'll get it worked out by Sunday."
Jimmie Johnson is third, 150 points behind Stewart and will start 31st.
"We've been pretty loose, fighting some different conditions," Johnson said. "The way the times are so close, being off just a little bit is going to cost us a lot of spots. I don't think we can control our outcome for winning the championship.
"A few laps into the race at Atlanta, it looked like we could maybe control our destiny. Now, we're going to need the 20 car (Stewart) make a mistake if we're going to have a shot at it, but we're still fighting for second in points and, who knows, crazy things happen."