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BROOKLYN, Mich. - Stock car drivers love to talk about the weather.
For yesterday's qualifying session at Michigan International Speedway, the clouds were thick, the sky was heavy and the temperature was unseasonably cool.
The racing Doppler said that made for hot times on the track.
Ryan Newman used the meteorologically favorable atmosphere to obliterate the track qualifying record by posting a lap at 194.232 mph and covering the MIS layout in 37.069 seconds.
That puts Newman, one of 26 drivers who yesterday surpassed Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 191.149 mark set in 2000, on the pole for today's Nextel Cup Batman Begins 400.
"I'd say maybe 80 percent of that is a function of the weather," Newman said. "Usually it is 80-85 degrees here and the sun is out. If you catch a cloud, then you're two-tenths of a second faster. That's usually the way it is, but obviously today, without a single ray of sun out, that made it equal for everybody."
Newman grabbed his first pole at MIS, his fifth of the season, and the 32nd he has taken in his 131 career Nextel Cup Series races.
He won the June race here last year with an average speed of 190.064 mph.
"We were fortunate to win here last year, and today the track was probably in the best condition it has ever been in for qualifying, and the speeds show it," Newman said. "Usually the better the driver is, the easier it is to overdrive the car because you can maintain control of it. You end up getting closer and closer to getting out of control when you try to go faster."
Casey Mears qualified second at 193.757 mph, and along with Newman had one of four Dodges in the top five. Tony Stewart in a Chevrolet was third at 193.512 mph, followed by Kasey Kahne and Jeremy Mayfield.
"When a car feels good in qualifying or race trim, then I'm going to drive the heck out of it every lap," Mears said. "When you've got a good car it's predictable each lap. You know what to expect."
Michigan is one of the tracks on the Nextel Cup circuit that uses the impound rule, which forces teams to start races with essentially the same setup they used during qualifying. That meant qualifying in race trim.
"We just worked on our car in race trim," said Greg Biffle, who qualified 25th, "because qualifying really means nothing anymore."
Biffle, who leads the Nextel Cup ranks with four wins this season and is second to Jimmie Johnson in the points race coming into today's race, won the August race at MIS last year.
"This car feels exactly like it did when we won here," Biffle said. "I'm confident that it's gonna lead laps tomorrow. It's prepared flawlessly. I think we've got a strong chance of winning, I really do."
Johnson qualified 16th after dragging the track a couple of times in turns 3 and 4. Eric McClure, Derrick Cope, P.J. Jones and Morgan Shepherd all failed to make the field, while deep in the back, tucked all the way in the 41st starting position in row 21, just two places from dead last, is Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt, who had three wins to his credit and was leading the points race at this time last year, is mired in a slump. He has led a total of just five laps this season, and is 16th in the points race. Junior has finished no better than 14th in the past four races.
"I'm looking forward to tomorrow," Earnhardt said. "I think we've got a pretty decent car as far as the race goes. The impound makes it hard to get the car tight enough to qualify if you want the car loose enough to race. I don't think the impound is suiting me, but it's suiting some other guys well. We'll figure it out."
The final tickets for today's race were sold yesterday, meaning today's race will be the 29th consecutive Cup race sellout at MIS.42.11068 -84.24795