LOUDON, N.H. — As rain hit the track, five drivers were parked waiting for a qualifying turn that might not come.
Led by Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, the five could afford to have their laps called because of rain: They were the five fastest in practice and would have started up front Sunday had qualifying been wiped out.
Kurt Busch wanted them to get going or else his top-five qualifying lap would have been erased, and the washout would have dumped him back into the 30s.
The rain eased up, leading to some rare pole day drama. Ryan Newman was the last car out and the fastest at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, turning a lap of 135.002 mph on Friday to win the pole for the second time this season at one of his favorite tracks.
"I don't think I've seen that much drama go into the last five cars in qualifying," Newman said.
Newman started first at New Hampshire in July and went on to earn his only win of the season. Newman is seventh in the points standings and has three total poles this year.
Red Bull Racing drivers Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers were second and third, respectively. Greg Biffle and Busch rounded out the top five.
When the rain came, Vickers sat on the pole. Juan Pablo Montoya was next in line and refused to take a turn when NASCAR asked if he wanted to run before the rain picked up from a drizzle. So the drivers waited through a 51-minute delay.
When officials decided it was clear enough to run, Montoya turned in a miserable lap and qualified 31st.
Montoya was visibly agitated as he criticized the decision to qualify and said it was still raining at the track.
"We've got a car fast enough to be on the pole," he said. "It's a joke."
Johnson, the five-time defending champion, was behind Montoya. He declined an opportunity to go ahead of Montoya shortly before the cars were covered on pit row. Once the track was dried and ready to race, each driver had the option to go out and lay down his qualifying lap.
"I go when the 42 goes," Johnson said.
Montoya was fifth fastest in practice — a stat that meant nothing as he stormed off in the garage.
Johnson still had trouble on a slightly slick track.
"My car was slipping and sliding pretty bad out there," he said. "I'm not sure what the reason is for that. But we got a decent lap in and NASCAR put a huge effort in to make sure those last five cars had an even playing ground."
Well, don't tell that to Montoya.
Newman and Busch were the only Chase drivers in the top five.
Championship contenders occupied the next three spots, with points leader Kevin Harvick sixth, Gordon seventh and Kyle Busch eighth. Johnson was 10th and Dale Earnhardt Jr., 12th. Brad Keselowski starts 16th, Tony Stewart 20th, Carl Edwards 23rd, Matt Kenseth 27th and Denny Hamlin 28th.
Newman continued to romp at New Hampshire. He has 13 career top-10 finishes and two wins at New Hampshire.
"My track was dry," Newman said. "I think we picked up about the same amount of speed as the other guys did earlier in qualifying."
Newman won the New Hampshire pole for the sixth time and has 49 overall in his career.
Vickers and Kahne gave Red Bull Racing a needed dose of good news this week. Red Bull Racing filed a notice this week in North Carolina that it expects to lay off 152 employees when it shutters operations on Dec. 17, 2011.
Kahne is moving to Hendrick Motorsports next season, and Vickers is in the final year of his contract.
Vickers held out hope the operation could be salvaged.
"I would love to see Red Bull stay in the sport, whether I'm part of it or not," Vickers said.
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