Stewart takes first pole of the season at Atlanta

On the advice of his teammate, Tony Stewart took the high road. He wound up with the pole for Sunday night's NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Stewart turned a fast lap of 186.121 mph on Friday to take his first pole of the season and second of his career at the 1.54-mile tri-oval. He also was on the pole at Atlanta for the season finale in 2002, setting him up to clinch the first of his three Cup titles.

This time, Stewart hopes starting at the front helps him lock down his spot in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup title. He is the defending champion and, as a three-time winner this season, all but assured of at least a wild-card spot in the playoff. But if he drops below his current position, 10th, he'll lose nine bonus points that could be very valuable in the quest for a second straight title.

While never known as a strong qualifier - this was only his 14th career pole - Stewart took advantage of a timely tip from teammate Ryan Newman. The Rocket failed to tie the Atlanta record for most poles, settling for the 17th-fastest speed, but he came all the way down pit road to pass along what he thought was the best line to take on the sticky track.

Stay high, Newman said, instead of the customary line along the bottom that most drivers take because it's a bit shorter. Turns out, he was right on the mark.

- Associated Press

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