WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. Tony Stewart showed why he's the best road-course racer in NASCAR, and was on his way to winning two poles in qualifying before rain ruined his chance Saturday at Watkins Glen International.
First, Stewart set a record to take the top spot for the Busch series race later in the day. Then he made a less-than-spectacular lap but easily held the provisional pole for Sunday's Nextel Cup event.
But rain and the looming Busch race prevented NASCAR from finishing the Cup session with 10 drivers remaining in line. It cost Stewart the official pole, but as the points leader he'll start first in the Sirius Satellite Radio at the Glen.
''I didn't think I ran that well, really,'' Stewart said. ''I got loose in the carousel twice and then got loose in the second-to-last corner before we got on the frontstretch.''
Still, he was nearly 1 mph faster than Robby Gordon, who lost his lap because of the rain and must start 39th.
Stewart's Chevrolet toured the 11-turn layout at 123.143 mph.
After former Glen winner Robby Gordon came four-time series and track champion Jeff Gordon. Stewart and the Gordons have combined to win 14 of the last 16 races here and on the road course in Sonoma, Calif.
On Sunday, Stewart will try to win here for the second year in a row and collect his fifth victory in the last seven races. He also will try to win for the third time here and fifth time overall on a road course.
Stewart wasn't upset by the lap, calling it pretty cool and a good sign for Sunday.
''I think it's going to be an awesome race car tomorrow,'' he said. ''I promise it's going to be better tomorrow.''
If he reaches Victory Lane for the 24th time in his career, Stewart also will pad his 75-point lead in the standings over Jimmie Johnson. He never got on the track, but will line up second because the field was set car-owner points and other criteria.
''We really have two good cars here this weekend,'' said Stewart, whose Busch lap of 121.069 broke Scott Pruett's four-year-old track record of 121.052. ''You can be the best driver out there, but if you don't have a car that drives good it's not going to work.''
Robby Gordon's Chevy went 122.182.
Jeff Gordon, facing a difficult battle to move from 14th to the top 10 that will put him in the final 10-race Chase for the Championship, went 122.055.
Johnson was unsure of what to expect because he had trouble with his brakes in practice Friday. He had the pole a year ago when qualifying was rained out, but an engine failure relegated him to 40th.
''I really feel that we're going to be strong,'' Johnson said.
Greg Biffle was the most fortunate of the drivers. He was 14th on speed chart, but moved to third when the session was voided, essentially trading starting spots with Jeff Gordon.
Biffle said he understands the difficulty of beating Stewart.
''It's obvious that the 20 team has something figured out that nobody else does,'' Biffle said.
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