Tony Stewart will start on the pole for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race for the first time since 23 October 2005 thanks to a qualifying rain-out Friday at Pocono Raceway.

"Obviously, everybody is disappointed we didn't get on the racetrack today, but it worked out good for myself and [second-place starter] Jeff [Gordon]," Stewart said, "It's nice to be able to get a front-row starting spot because of rain, but that's not what the fans came to see."

The rain-out also was good news for Gordon's aching back, which got an extra day of rest. It won't be under the same stress at Pocono as he experienced last Sunday at one-mile, high-banked Dover, where Gordon hit the wall hard during qualifying, but will be sore nonetheless.

"I think this track's one of the easier tracks," said Gordon, who will start beside Stewart in Sunday's Pocono 500 under NASCAR's rain-out rules, which order the front of the field according to the current owner points standings, "You get a lot of rest on those long straightaways. About the only place that it might be an issue is under braking getting into turn one.

"I had to do a test at Road Atlanta this week - that was one of the real tests [for the back]. I was surprised that we got through it pretty good, especially after the wreck last Friday during qualifying. I was pretty sore from that."

Gordon welcomed the day off at Pocono, with rain washing out qualifying and the Cup practice session that was to have preceded it.

"When you go to qualify here - it doesn't matter how good you were in practice - you're going to have to pick up about a second from practice," the 37-year old said, "Laying it out there on the line through that tunnel turn is hairy. I'm getting old, and I hit the wall last week in qualifying, so I'm fine with not taking that qualifying lap here today and saving it for another week, even though I like qualifying."

This is the second qualifying rain-out for the Cup series this year. Under the rain-out rules, Derrike Cope, Tony Raines and Mike Wallace failed to make the 43-car field, although Wallace would have made the field had his team's entry form not been received late.

Jimmie Johnson will start third, followed by Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.

Sunday's race will be the first under NASCAR's new restart format, with lead-lap cars taking the green flag double-file, with lapped cars behind them.

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

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