HAMPTON, GA. Ryan Newman headed to the lake Saturday to get in some fishing.
"Can you imagine that we're actually talking about having a day off at a race track?" Newman said, feigning disbelief at the impact of NASCAR's new prerace schedule.
Maybe while he was out on the water, Newman also had time to figure out the answer to a more vexing question: How does he turn another dazzling qualifying run into a victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway?
Newman will start from the pole in today's Golden Corral 500, just as he has for the last four Nextel Cup races at the 1.54-mile trioval. His five straight poles are an Atlanta record, but all that success in qualifying has yet to yield a win on race day.
"We're knocking on the door," Newman insisted. "We've had a car that's been capable of winning all three races this year."
No one is better on pole day than Newman. In just his fourth full year on the circuit, the 27-year-old college graduate already has two poles this season and 29 in his career -- tied with Ricky Rudd for 11th place in the modern era.
Newman hasn't been quite as successful on race day, though his 11 victories are nothing to be ashamed of when most of his racing still is in front of him.
Even so, it's a bit bewildering that he's never been able to finish higher than fifth at Atlanta.
"To me, qualifying is a little bit easier," Newman said. "It's just two laps, you versus the track, with no other cars and no pit stops."
He's off to a solid start this season, ranking ninth in the points after consecutive ninth-place finishes at California and Las Vegas. A victory in Atlanta could push him near the top of the Cup standings.
"As a driver or a team or a crew chief, you can create a lot of excuses," Newman said. "The bottom line is it takes teamwork among everybody. Maybe the car's not up to snuff. Maybe we're not making the right adjustments during the race. I can't say it's one thing we're lacking."
So far, the young season has been a head-to-head battle between the Fords of Roush Racing and the Chevrolets of Hendrick Motorsports.
Jeff Gordon (Hendrick) won the season-opening Daytona 500, Greg Biffle (Roush) took the checkered flag in California and Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick) crossed the line first at Las Vegas last weekend.
The overall standings have a similar feel. Defending series champion Kurt Busch (Roush) is out front again, followed by Johnson, Biffle, Gordon and Carl Edwards (Roush).
Johnson would have been in the lead, but his car failed inspection after the Las Vegas victory. NASCAR inspectors found his roof was too low, leading to a 25-point penalty for Johnson and a two-week suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus.