Newman up to speed with victory at Dover

Poor finish week before forgotten as he gets back into Nextel Cup's Chase

Auto Racing

September 27, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DOVER, Del. - It may still turn out that his 33rd-place finish in New Hampshire last week will cost Ryan Newman the Nextel Cup, but yesterday in the MBNA America 400, Newman drove to a dominating, 8.149-second victory over Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.

The result pulled Newman back into the hunt for the Cup, just 107 points behind Gordon, who leaped two spots into the points lead.

"We can't keep being 33rd one week and first the next," said Newman. "But if we can keep the top-fives going, I can guarantee us the championship. This was a big step in the right direction."

Newman and his No. 12 Dodge started second, on the outside of the first row, and by the end of the first lap he had passed pole-sitter Jeremy Mayfield for the lead. It was a place he held for 325 of the 400 laps on the one-mile oval, averaging 119.067 mph.

"I don't know how many times I passed lapped cars, but it seemed like every eight laps," said Newman, who has won three of the past four races here. "I guess that's a good thing."

When he crossed the finish line, there were just eight drivers left on the lead lap.

"I thought I had something for Ryan on that last restart with 65 laps to go," said Martin, who drives the No. 6 Ford, "but, boy, I was so wrong."

Going into next week's race in Talladega, Ala., the third of 10 in The Chase for the Nextel Cup, the 10 drivers competing for the title are all within 157 points of the lead. Six of them are within 100 and eight of The Chase drivers finished in the top 10 yesterday.

Only Dale Jarrett, whose No. 88 Ford finished fourth, and Jamie McMurray, who was eighth in his No. 42 Dodge, crashed the top 10 party.

"I think this is what you're going to see," said Gordon. "That's why these guys are in the top 10 in points. I think what you're seeing happen at this point in the season is everybody is in his groove. Everybody's got their stuff together."

Among Chase drivers, only Elliott Sadler and Matt Kenseth finished deep in the field yesterday. Both had tire troubles, made worse by their entries to pit road.

Kenseth, who led for 58 laps and had one of the few cars able to challenge Newman in the early going, was coming to the pits to check his tires when he spun into the protective barrier at the pit road entrance. He eventually finished 32nd, 81 laps down.

Sadler finished 20th after being assessed a speeding penalty when he came flying into the pits for a tire change.

"I tapped my brakes and realized I had no traction," Sadler said. "I decided to take a penalty if they caught me speeding rather than wreck the car."

Martin said the entry to the pits here has always been tricky and has been made more so because of the pit road speed limit.

"You have to lower your speed to 35 or 40 mph by the time you reach the cones they've put out there to mark the entry," said Martin. "Now, you have to discipline yourself. I'm sure I got beat on green [flag] pit stops because I didn't want to make a mistake. I was going granny pace by the time I reached my pit."

What disturbed a number of drivers, including Gordon, whose No. 24 Chevrolet has managed two top 10 finishes in each of the first two Chase races, and Newman is the lack of a precise system for checking pit road car speeds.

"Regardless of a championship, we need a totally different system," said Gordon. "I can't believe the way we do this. I try to hold myself at the pace we're told, and then guys run by me without penalty."

Newman was also irritated.

"Relying on someone's thumb hitting a button [on a stopwatch] at the right time can vary the reading by 3 or 4 mph," said Newman, who spun on pit road last spring and set off a situation that resulted in NASCAR changing its scoring system. "I wish we had a more refined system."

Yesterday, details surrounding pit road may have needed refining, but Newman didn't - and neither did his race car.

"The bottom line is when you can win like we did today ... everything takes care of itself," he said.

Points leaders

Top 10 Driver....Points

1. Jeff Gordon...5,371

2. Kurt Busch...5,370

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ...5,353

4. Jimmie Johnson...5,314

5. Mark Martin...5,314

6. Elliott Sadler...5,275

7. Matt Kenseth...5,272

8. Ryan Newman...5,264

9. Tony Stewart...5,236

10. Jeremy Mayfield...5,214

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