Stewart Takes the Pole

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Tony Stewart will start his 400th Sprint Cup race from the pole.

    Tony Stewart will start his 400th Sprint Cup race from the pole.

    Stewart won qualifying in NASCAR's top series for the first time in five years Friday, turning a lap of 191.327 mph at Texas Motor Speedway. It's been 155 races since Stewart last won the pole, at Martinsville in October 2005.

    "I'm surprised," Stewart said. "I'm really not much of a qualifier."

    It's the third time Stewart has won the pole in Texas. He was the top qualifier twice in the IndyCar Series in the 1990s.

    Former IRL star Sam Hornish Jr., still winless in his third full Sprint Cup season, almost knocked Stewart off the pole. He settled for second with a lap of 191.232.

    Greg Biffle, who was denied a seventh straight top-10 finish to start the season last week in Phoenix, qualified third for Sunday's race. Four-time defending Sprint Cup champion and current points leader Jimmie Johnson was fourth.

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    The pole drought didn't keep Stewart from winning races. Thirteen of his 37 victories have come since his last pole, the same year he won his second Sprint Cup series championship.

    RPM Preparing for Future Without Kahne

    Kasey Kahne has already signed with another team, ensuring Richard Petty Motorsports of losing its most successful driver after this season.

    None of RPM's other three drivers -- Elliott Sadler, A.J. Allmendinger or Paul Menard -- is under contract past 2010, either. Sponsorship deals are uncertain and the Gillett family that has a controlling interest in the team has been working through some financial issues, creating questions about RPM's future.

    "I think in the middle of the summer last year, you were probably saying the same thing about our company, but you know what, we're still here," RPM managing partner Foster Gillett said Friday. "We're still sponsored, we still have drivers, we're still competing for victories. I think we thrived and survived. ... And we're going to do it again."

    Gillett said his family made a choice to be in NASCAR and "it's not something we're going to leave."

    Kahne this week signed a long-term deal with Hendrick Motorsports that ensures his departure after this season, even though he is not scheduled to replace Mark Martin in the No. 5 car until 2012.

    For now, the 30-year-old Kahne said he remains committed to RPM for the rest of this season.

    Despite the team's uncertainty for 2011, Gillett said the organization is committed to doing the best it can this season.

    One of things made uncertain with Kahne's departure is Budweiser's primary sponsorship on the No. 9 car.

    Gillett said RPM will "put maximum effort" in keeping Anheuser-Busch past this season.

    Kahne said he has a great relationship with the Budweiser group and would like to keep representing it, though he knows ultimately that is not up to him. And he didn't take that into consideration when making his decision to leave RPM.

    "What I did was, I worried about myself, what I needed to do for my future and what I felt was the best idea for myself and what would work good for me," Kahne said.

    Gillett said he will concentrate on the races left with Kahne and not the future without the driver who has 11 career wins and has been in the Chase two of the last four seasons.

    Martin: I'm Not Retiring

    Mark Martin said he does not plan to abandon his Hendrick seat early or quit driving when he gets out of that car at the end of the 2011 season.

    Hendrick Motorsports this week signed Kasey Kahne as his replacement in the No. 5 Chevrolet after next season.

    "I'm racing in 2012," Martin said. "There will be an opportunity for me I'm sure that will be exciting and fun."

    Where Kahne will race next season is uncertain, because Hendrick has drivers under contract for its NASAR limit of four cars -- Martin, four-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kahne is in the last year of his contract with Richard Petty Motorsports.

    Martin actually initiated talks with Kahne late last season about replacing him at Hendrick. He said Kahne is "a really right fit for this organization."

    Kahne said the talks with Martin helped influence his decision and that he is not too concerned about the 2011 season. His new deal with Hendrick goes through 2014.

    "I'll work through it with Mr. Hendrick and figure out exactly what we need to do in '11 that makes the most sense," Kahne said. "They made a commitment to me, and Rick said he'll make sure it's right. I took that as it will be a pretty good opportunity, a pretty good situation I'll be in next year."

    The only thing certain is that Kahne will be with a Chevrolet team, and the most obvious option is Stewart-Haas Racing, which has a Hendrick alliance.

    Stewart said Friday, though, that nobody has talked to him about that. But Stewart has said he would be interested in a third team "if the right opportunity, right driver and right sponsor came along."