Dover, Del. — Ryan Newman sees no problem with being far back in the Winston Cup standings, even though much more was expected of him this season.
After all, he was the rage of NASCAR when he moved from 16th to a final standing of sixth last year and became rookie of the year. It was obvious that he was the fastest driver, leading the circuit with seven poles.
Today, he'll try to parlay his series-leading fourth pole this season into a victory at Dover International Speedway. He's badly in need of a win that will move him up from 24th position, 608 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.
"If we can lose that many points in 12 races we can gain that many more with 24 to go," Newman said. "We're not out until we're mathematically out."
But he can't afford anything other than a great run in the MBNA 400 on a track where Kenseth is always a threat to win. Newman enters the race with a simple plan.
"We've got a good shot at getting those five bonus points fast by starting on the pole," he said. "We try to lead every lap, so we're really going to try to lead the first one."
That would be a tiny first step, one Kenseth could counter quickly because he starts fourth. The rest of the story might be determined by fate, as it so often is on The Monster Mile.
If good luck plays a part, the law of averages might be kinder to Newman than Kenseth. Newman is one of four drivers bitten four times by the dreaded DNF -- a failure to finish that frequently proves devastating to title aspirations. Kenseth is one of only six drivers to avoid a DNF.
"We've had a lot of mistakes, unlucky situations and things like that," Newman said. "We're just trying to do what we can, the best we can."
That's also the story of Jimmie Johnson, who will try to win for the third week in a row and tie a Dover record. He swept the races last year on the high-banked concrete oval, and could join teammate and car owner Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace and David Pearson as the only drivers to win three straight at Dover.
Johnson is fifth in the standings and starts fifth in the race. He wasn't happy with his qualifying effort Friday, but goes into the race confident after winning the non-points NASCAR all-star race and the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"I love this track in race trim and can find the right thing," Johnson said.
But he believes momentum, either at a specific track or over a period of time, is not guaranteed.
"It's hard in our sport to stay on top for any length of time," Johnson said. "I'd like to hang on to it all year, but the competition is so tough that you'll see a team that has it working for four, five, six races, and then somebody else steps up."
Wallace, who starts second as he tries to end a career-worst drought of 74 consecutive losses, also is confident.
"I feel real good about it," he said, but thinks Johnson might have the car to beat. "He's running great and he always runs great here. I wouldn't put it past him."