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Tony Stewart takes pole at Pocono

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Jul. 31, 2009

LONG POND, Pa. – Tony Stewart is not above being a little bit selfish.

Asked early Friday about the possibility of earning the pole for Sunday’s Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway due to qualifying being rained out, Stewart had no reservations.

“I am all for raining because of that,” said Stewart, the Sprint Cup Series points leader, who would get the No. 1 starting position per NASCAR rules. “That is a selfish reason, obviously. I’m OK if qualifying gets rained out.”

Stewart got his wish as heavy afternoon rain washed out qualifying for the fifth time this season. Jimmie Johnson starts second, Jeff Gordon third, Kurt Busch fourth and Carl Edwards will line up fifth.

Why wouldn’t Stewart hope for rain?

He earned his first victory of the season – and the first for an owner/driver in the Cup series since 1998 with his win here in June.

That was his first week as the series leader and qualifying was rained out then, too, which put him on the pole. The next day, he wrecked his car in practice and was forced to use a backup. That didn’t make much difference as he conserved fuel to hold off Carl Edwards.

Stewart has not relinquished the points lead since that victory.

“It is hard to win one race. It is that much harder when you only have two chances (at the same track),” Stewart said. “If you can win both of them, it makes it very, very special.

“Having the first one under our belt here and having a car that drove well all day – that is already a step in the right direction for us leading into this weekend.

“We have a lot of confidence before we even hit the track.”

The Cup series did get part of their lone practice session in on Friday before the rain came.

Mark Martin led the abbreviated session, followed by Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Gordon and Kyle Busch. Stewart was sixth. It was difficult to gauge who would be fast in the race, however, as some teams used qualifying set-ups while others worked only in race set-up.

“We’ll hope the weather works out (Saturday) to be able to make plenty of race runs to get ready to go racing on Sunday,” Gordon said.

“I feel like we have some unfinished business to take care of here. We weren’t as good as we wanted to be last time even though we finished good because of the fuel mileage.”

Gordon, who has one win and is third in the series standings, said with the way his teammates, Martin and Johnson, have been performing so far this season, his No. 24 team needs “to step it up.”

“We’ve got some areas that we’re focused on improving and I’m excited about some of the things that we have in the works for the next five races, including here this weekend.”

Only 43 cars showed up this weekend, so no driver failed to make the field.

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