For the second time in as many events at Pocono Raceway, Tony Stewart was awarded the pole for a Sprint Cup race after a rain-out precluded qualifying for a fifth time this season..

In the face of persistent precipitation on Friday, NASCAR officials cancelled qualifying for Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at the 2.5-mile triangular track, with the top 35 positions go to the top 35 cars in owner points, giving Stewart the pole and first choice of pit stalls.

Jimmie Johnson, second in the Cup standings, will start beside Stewart on the outside of the front row, while Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya will starting fourth through tenth respectively.

Though starting up front certainly is an advantage, Stewart proved on 7 June that it's not a necessity. Though he was awarded the pole because of a rain-out on that occasion, he started at the rear of the field after damaging his car during practice and having to switch to a back-up. Despite the apparent setback, Stewart worked his way forward and eventually won the race by conserving fuel.

"You don't have to be on the pole to win here," 'Smoke' confirmed, "It's not a deal-breaker to start 43rd, but it really was a benefit having that first pit selection last time, especially our situation of myself crashing the car during practice and having to go to the back for race day. That helped us gain a lot of spots on pit road. It helped take what could have been an extremely long day and make it a good day."

Stewart holds a 192-point lead over Johnson with six races left before the field for the Chase for the Championship is set on 12 September at Richmond. Martin leads the series with four victories, each worth ten bonus points if he remains in the top twelve, while Johnson and Kyle Busch have three apiece, followed by Stewart and Kenseth with two.

Kenseth is currently twelfth in points, fighting to keep his record of qualifying for every Chase intact. Kyle Busch fell to 14th in the standings last week at Indianapolis and won't be able to take advantage of his 30 bonus points if he fails to regain a Chase-eligible position.

For the first time this season, no drivers went home early as the 43-car entry matched the field size.

by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service


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