Ryan Newman bests Jimmie Johnson for Brickyard pole

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The best came last on Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as Ryan Newman – the 45th and final qualifier of the day – threw down a lap at 187.531 miles per hour to snatch the Brickyard 400 pole away from defending race winner Jimmie Johnson.

“It’s the benefit of going out last – you get to see and watch, and see where guys can make and lose time,” Newman told ESPN. “I guess I did part of my homework, but the [team] definitely did their homework…I don’t know if we caught a cloud or anything. I don’t think it was anything to do with that, but it was a great effort today.”

Renowned in the past for his qualifying prowess, the South Bend, Indiana native had not won a Sprint Cup pole in almost two years. But his last-minute run enabled him to become the second Hoosier to take a pole at IMS this season, joining Indy 500 pole sitter and Indianapolis native Ed Carpenter.

Today’s crowd was appreciative of Newman’s efforts, cheering him as he climbed out of his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.

“It’s special for me, for a lot of reasons,” Newman told ESPN. “Being home, being in Indiana and being at the Brickyard, and being so long not to win a pole – hopefully, we can turn it into a good day tomorrow.”

Johnson withstood 33 attempts to knock him off the top spot, but in the end, his lap of 187.438 miles per hour was only good enough for second on the grid. Still, it’s great starting position for tomorrow, which could see either him or Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon become the first five-time Brickyard 400 winner.

“You can’t count Ryan out,” said Johnson. “He put up a whale of a lap…Our race package should be good. We’ve been a little bit stronger in [qualifying] trim but we’ve got some things to apply to our race set-up and we’ll have a great day tomorrow.”

The second row will feature Carl Edwards (187.157), who will lead the Ford side from third tomorrow, and Denny Hamlin (187.122), who paced the Toyotas with the fourth-quickest run today. Newman’s boss, two-time Brickyard winner Tony Stewart, and Kurt Busch will make up Row 3, followed by Kasey Kahne and former Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya in Row 4, and Gordon and Marcos Ambrose in Row 5.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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