To the surprise of absolutely no one, defending Sylvania 300 winner Ryan Newman placed his #12 ALLTEL Dodge on top of the speed charts in the first practice session of the weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway on Friday.

Newman, who will go searching for an incredible seventh Bud Pole award this season in Friday afternoon's two-lap qualifying session at the fat, one-mile New England oval, set a best time of 28.556secs (133.380mph) during Friday morning's two-hour session.

The prodigious Penske Racing talent dominated last September's visit to the difficult Loudon oval, winning the pole and the race in dominant fashion and his fastest lap from practice was almost three full tenths of a second quicker than his year-old qualifying track record.

Dale Earnhardt Jr finished the session with second fastest time, getting a 28.734secs lap out of his #8 Budweiser DEI Chevrolet that was still almost two tenths slower than Newman.

Current points leader Matt Kenseth started this year's New England 300 from pole position by default virtue of a rain-out in qualifying but he proved that he would be challenging for a qualifying clean sweep at NHIS this year by setting third fastest time (28.750secs) in the Jack Roush owned #17 DeWalt Ford.

Rookie Jamie McMurray was fourth fastest, with July's NHIS winner Jimmie Johnson fifth, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Terry Labonte sixth, Greg Biffle seventh and Joe Nemechek eighth.

Kevin Harvick and Ricky Rudd were separated by some 16 places on the timesheets, Harvick in eleventh spot, Rudd 27th, although Jimmy Spencer and Kurt Busch finished the session next to each other with 24th and 25th fastest times respectively.

Busch Series regular Scott Wimmer was 32nd fastest as he attempts to make his second Winston Cup start of the season, although Rich Bickle's hopes took a dive before the track even opened, as his Conley Racing team elected to withdraw from what was set to be their seasonal debut.



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