Track saftey crew members work to extinguish a fire in Jeff Burton's race car during the NASCAR MBNA America 400 at the Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del., Sunday, Sept. 26, 2004. Burton was not injured in the crash and fire.
AP Photo/Chris Gardner
DOVER, Del. Ryan Newman has a plan to win the NASCAR Nextel Cup title even though the mathematics make that seem very unlikely.
''If we can finish in the top five in the last nine races, I can pretty much guarantee us a championship,'' he said after winning Sunday at Dover International Speedway. ''But we can't finish 33rd, first and then 33rd.''
He certainly can't, given the 107 points by which he trails leader Jeff Gordon with eight races remaining. Newman is playing catchup because engine failure relegated him to a 33rd-place finish a week earlier in New Hampshire.
''But this is a big step in the right direction,'' Newman said of his victory Sunday in the MBNA America 400. ''We'll just do the best that we possibly can, and if we don't deserve it then we won't get it.''
Four-time series champion Gordon agrees with Newman's assessment that consistency will win the title. He isn't that concerned with wins.
''What more can you ask for than top-fives every weekend,'' Gordon said. ''That would do it.''
He also believes Newman remains a threat, saying that one bad race should not knock a team out of championship contention.
''If Ryan Newman does what he did today anymore, he'll be right back in the thick of things,'' Gordon said.
Newman's optimism stems from the belief that practically every team will have one very bad race in the final 10.
''We've got to forget about today right now,'' he said. ''If you're spending time celebrating, you're not spending time working.''
Gordon finished third behind Mark Martin in the race and is one point ahead of Kurt Busch, who wound up fifth and lost the points lead when he was passed by Dale Jarrett with six laps to go.
''I thought we might have a shot at Mark,'' Gordon said. ''But we had nothing for Newman.''
Gordon said his car was good at times and far off at others. He also believes he can run better next week.
''I just hope that doesn't mean we have a bulls-eye on us at Talladega,'' said Gordon, a winner there in April.
New Hampshire winner Busch came to The Monster Mile tied for the series lead with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who fell to third in the title chase by finishing ninth. He's 18 points behind Gordon.
Although he was unable to make a large gain, Newman demonstrated the power of his Dodge by leading 325 of 400 laps. Newman, who started second, was ahead by a half-lap for much of the final quarter of the race with the margin reduced only because a caution flag bunched the field on the 327th lap.
Newman's victory in the $5.4 million event was his third at Dover, where he swept the races last year. He got his second victory this season and 11th of his career, beating Martin by 8.149 seconds on the high-banked concrete oval. Martin got his fourth Dover victory in June.
''We made some adjustments but we didn't have to make many,'' Newman said. ''Once you get it right on this concrete it stays right.''
Busch was happy with his best Dover finish.
''We just lost the handle on it in the corners,'' he said. ''I was trying to hold off Jarrett but I couldn't.''
Martin, now tied with Jimmie Johnson for fourth place in the series, said he got all he could out of his car.
''The race was decided on the last restart,'' he said. ''I found out what the 12 (Newman) really had.''
Newman averaged 119.084 mph in a race slowed five times by cautions covering 38 laps. There were 13 lead changes among seven drivers.
Former series champion and two-time Dover winner Tony Stewart finished sixth, followed by polesitter Jeremy Mayfield and Jamie McMurray. Johnson wound up 10th.
Reigning series champion Matt Kenseth finished 32nd after spinning out and hitting a tire barrier at the end of pit road. That caused the race to be halted for 12 minutes while repairs were made.
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