DOVER, Del. Jeremy Mayfield and Ryan Newman are badly in need of great finishes Sunday at Dover International Speedway after bad luck a week earlier made them long shots to win the Nextel Cup championship.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that they'll have a great chance to recoup lost points as front-row starters in the MBNA America 400.
Despite falling 142 points behind co-leaders Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. because he crashed after Robby Gordon intentionally wrecked Greg Biffle in New Hampshire, Mayfield is approaching Sunday's race as if nothing happened.
''We're not worried about points now,'' he said. ''Points are not even in our vocabulary.''
At least he's certain to be an early contender on The Monster Mile, where he won the pole for both races this year.
''We're going to run hard and run up front,'' Mayfield said. ''That's all we can do.''
He's been an underdog all year, and didn't make the field of top-10 drivers competing for the title until the last opportunity. He got in by winning two weeks ago in Richmond, Va., his first victory of the season.
''We've got to come back fighting every week, and that's what we're going to do this week,'' Mayfield said. ''We're going to be good here. This is one of our good tracks.''
He might have won in June on the high-banked concrete oval, but was caught up in a 19-car crash.
Newman, 136 points out after an engine failure in New Hampshire, swept last year at Dover and was strong here in June, when he also started second to Mayfield.
''We had a good car in the spring race, and everybody knows what happened there,'' Newman said.
It was embarrassing. He miscalculated the entrance to pit road and slid sideways into a tire barrier. That brought out the caution flag that preceded the big pileup.
With his starting position, Newman also figures to do well at the beginning. He has a favorable pit stall and figures to get a five-point bonus for leading a lap, something Newman insists could be important if he gets back in the thick of the championship scramble.
''We'll just see how things go,'' Newman said. ''Hopefully it's not the same type of events we had in the first race here. Usually Dover is pretty good about having good, long green-flag runs and a lot of good racing.''
Newman realizes he needs to avoid another disastrous finish, but won't label Sunday's race a must-win situation.
''I wouldn't use the words 'absolutely necessary,' but we're here to win,'' he said. ''If we come away with a top five, that's good. If we don't, we'll assess the situation.''
The main beneficiary of the chaos in June probably was Mark Martin. He managed to avoid the pileup, got a break when runaway leader Kasey Kahne crashed and ended a 72-race losing streak with his fourth Dover victory.
Like Mayfield, a late qualifier for the championship field, Martin is trying for the 18th time to win his first NASCAR title. He's delighted to have that opportunity.
''I couldn't have a lot more things going for me than this right now,'' he said. ''I've got my favorite car, my favorite track, a great engine under the hood and a great pit crew on pit road. So what else could a guy ask for?''
Martin starts 12th in the race.
Elliott Sadler goes from the fourth spot in the 43-car field. Reigning series champion Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are the other championship contenders near the front of the field. Kenseth lines up eighth and Johnson ninth.
New Hampshire winner Busch will start 13th, three spots ahead of Earnhardt.
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, also a four-time winner here, goes from the 21st position. Former champion and two-time Dover winner Tony Stewart, also far behind because he crashed as a result Robby Gordon's action in New Hampshire, starts 23rd.
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