FONTANA, Calif. The question for Ryan Newman is when, not if, he will win his first Winston Cup race.
The precocious rookie, teammate of defending NAPA Auto Parts 500 winner Rusty Wallace, says all it's going to take is putting all the pieces together maybe as soon as today's race.
"Ryan doesn't drive like a rookie," said Wallace, who has 54 Cup victories. "He's like a lot of these young guys coming into the sport. He's been a racer for a long time and understands race cars and what he's supposed to be doing."
The 24-year-old Newman led a pack of NASCAR's young guns in Friday's qualifying, winning his second career pole as five of the top 10 spots in the 43-car field went to drivers under the age of 30.
Runner-up Kurt Busch, 23, won his first race earlier this season in Bristol, 27-year-old Elliott Sadler claimed a win last year at the same track and 27-year-old Dale Earnhardt Jr. already has six career wins, including last Sunday's race in Talladega.
Jimmie Johnson, the 26-year-old driver battling Newman for rookie of the year honors, is also looking for his first Cup win.
"The way we've been running, I don't think it's far away," said Newman, who has two top-fives, four top-10s and ranks 21st in the standings this year after an eight-race Cup schedule in 2001. "We've been running up front, but in three, four, five races we've had some mechanical failures or driver errors.
"Those things are going to happen in your rookie season."
The mechanical gremlins got Newman the last two weeks.
He was 12th in the points before an overheating problem relegated him to a 41st-place finish in Martinsville after starting 10th and running with the front-runners early in the race.
In Talladega, Newman started eighth and led twice before his engine blew, leaving him in last place.
"It's pretty frustrating for everybody on the team," the Purdue University engineering graduate said. "That's the way things go in this sport, though. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you have no control over what happens.
"The key for us is to just keep after it. This is a good team with good equipment and we're going to win some races," added Newman, whose best finish was second last September in Kansas City.
Johnson, whose best finish was third earlier this season in Atlanta, feels the same way about his Hendrick Motorsports operation.
"We're feeling pretty good about the way things have gone so far, but this is a very tough, very frustrating sport sometimes," Johnson said.