LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Rain didn't entirely spoil Tony Stewart's week.
He will start Sunday's Pocono 500 from the pole after a downpour Friday washed out qualifying for Stewart's first race since he catapulted to the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings this season.
Stewart earned a nice consolation prize after his charity race was also rained out earlier this week.
Still, Smoke is on a roll in his first season as an owner and driver.
"It has been a honeymoon to this point," Stewart said Friday. "I'm going to enjoy it as much as I can."
Jeff Gordon and his achy back will start second. The four-time Cup champion said that he'll be OK for Sunday's race at the "Tricky Triangle," though he does need about an hour of treatment each day to ease the pain.
Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman round out the top five in a Pocono lineup set on the point standings.
They're all looking up at Stewart, who's fashioned a surprising run for a third career Cup title in his inaugural season with Stewart Haas Racing.
"I still think Tony is crazy for starting up his own team, but he's doing a great job with it," said Johnson, who nipped Stewart to win last week at Dover.
Stewart's schedule has been washed out since then, including the charity race at a dirt track he owns near the western Ohio village of Rossburg that had been postponed Wednesday because of rain. It was rescheduled for Sept. 9.
Friday's rainout at Pocono, though, allowed him more time to get back to Eldora Speedway to enter qualifying there for Saturday's Dirt Late Model Dream race.
"Make it quick, I'm actually trying to make it back to qualify in case I didn't stress that enough," Stewart joked in the media room after Friday's Pocono washout became official.
The pole winner is usually the last driver to talk to reporters, though Gordon graciously switched places with Stewart to allow him to fly out earlier.
"You earned it man, you're the points leader," Gordon told Stewart with a smile after the two exchanged handshakes as Stewart left the stage. Stewart is the first driver/owner to lead in points since Alan Kulwicki won the 1992 Cup championship.
Other drivers didn't plan quite as extensive a schedule.
Gordon planned to rest his sore back. Denny Hamlin hoped to give teammate and rookie Joey Logano a spin around the 2.5-mile tri-oval to give Logano a better feel for the course ahead of Sunday's race.
Johnson wanted to just sit in his bus and eat.
"Usually you just sit in the bus and eat all day," the three-time defending champion said, drawing laughs. "My bus driver found a gym down the road, so at least I'll go get a workout and then eat so I feel better about myself."
Sunday's race will also mark the first one with double-file restarts in a Cup points race. The format had been used in non-points races.
by the associated press