Newman stays hot, wins pole at Dover

Stewart unfazed by 31st-place starting position

September 24, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

DOVER, DEL. // What did Ryan Newman do? Rub a rabbit's foot or something?

He made The Chase for the Nextel Cup field at the last possible moment, wrapping up the final qualifying spot in the final qualifying race of the season. He followed that with his first win of the season last weekend in New Hampshire and jumped from 10th to third in the standings.

"He's been lurking," driver Greg Biffle said. "Now he's a threat [for the title]."

Yesterday, Newman and his No. 12 Dodge circled Dover International Speedway at 158.102 mph and carved out the perfect starting spot for the MBNA RacePoints 400, earning the pole for a race he dominated a year ago.

"I really enjoy this racetrack and I really enjoy qualifying," Newman said after earning his sixth pole of the season - no other driver has more than two. "I enjoy attacking the racetrack. It's the only thing I have to beat. There's no traffic. No dirty air. I enjoy it and feel I'm representing the whole team."

But that doesn't explain the team turnaround that has him in position to take advantage of points leader Tony Stewart's bad run. Stewart qualified 31st, at 154.777 mph.

"It wasn't a stellar lap by any means," Stewart said. "But as Zippy [crew chief Greg Zipadelli] said on the radio, this isn't a track where we put a huge emphasis on qualifying. We've started in the mid-20s for the two races that we won here, so we're not too concerned about a wreck."

And Newman was doing anything but counting his chickens. "Every chance is a chance," he said. "But everybody is racing for a win, and nine other guys are going for a championship."

So, there is no saying what will happen in tomorrow's race.

But what has happened to his Penske-owned team during the past month that has turned it into a contender?

"Not a rabbit's foot," Newman said. "No one thing that I can point to. We had some personnel changes five or six weeks ago [a new jack man, a new front tire carrier and, about five weeks ago, a new car chief, Alex Query]. But mostly, I think, it has been teamwork, a lot of effort and pure performance."

A year ago, Newman had the best performance of all here, winning at Dover. But it made little difference in his drive for the championship because he did not finish the race a week earlier in New Hampshire. It was a result he could never overcome.

"Now we're coming off a win in New Hampshire and we're in the perfect position," Newman said. "But that doesn't mean we'll come out and do better now. ... But it's nice to be considered a threat. Now we have to follow this up to our expectations. We didn't intend to go into Richmond in 11th [in points], but we came out all right. I wouldn't call it luck. We have just become dominant when necessary."

Kasey Kahne will start alongside Newman, with Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson completing the top five.

Notes -- Surrounded by the best sprint car drivers in the business, Richard and Kyle Petty announced the formation of the National SprintCar League. This is the sprint car world's version of the open-wheel split between the Indy Racing League and Championship Auto Racing Teams. Ten of the top 15 drivers and teams in the World of Outlaws Series have signed three-year agreements that begin with the 2006 season. Among those who have committed are 19-time World of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser, Jason Meyers, Kraig Kinser, Danny Lasoski, Tim Shaffer and Paul McMahan. The series has also received commitments from three-time Outlaws champ Sammy Swindell and 16-time Outlaws championship car owner Karl Kinser. "We all feel comfortable, as long as Richard and Kyle are in charge," said Tony Stewart, the 2002 Cup Series champion, and current sprint car team and racetrack owner. "We believe in their integrity, and their reputations are on the line." Newman also won the pole for today's Busch Series Dover 200, clocking 156.419 mph in his Dodge ... Marylander Donnie Neuenberger qualified his Ford 39th in the 43-car Busch field, at 149.142 mph.

smm2me@aol.com

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