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Nextel Cup pursuit heats up

Newman eager to extend dominance at Dover's Monster Mile

Busch racer Ryan Newman is drenched in Gatorade as he climbs out of his car Saturday after winning the Dover 200 at Dover Speedway.
Busch racer Ryan Newman is drenched in Gatorade as he climbs out of his car Saturday after winning the Dover 200 at Dover Speedway.
Russell Hamilton Jr, Associated Press

DOVER, Del. — Now, Ryan Newman will return to his real job, trying to win the NASCAR Nextel Cup.

He has the pole Sunday at Dover International Speedway, where he tied a record Saturday by winning his fourth consecutive Busch series start. Before he set a track record by leading 193 of 200 laps in that race, Newman talked about his ultimate dream for the MBNA 400.

"I think every driver wants to lead 400 laps," said Newman, who moved within 40 points of leader Tony Stewart with a victory last Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway. "We'd love to lead the first one to get those bonus points, and lead 399 more after that."

That might be a bit of a reach, but Newman's pursuit of Jeff Gordon's four-year-old mark of 381 might not be so unbelievable considering his record of three victories in the last four races on The Monster Mile.

As confident as he is, however, Newman knows the treacherous high-banked concrete oval has ruined the dreams of many.

"You have to be careful," he said. "You never know what the balance is going to be like. Hopefully, we can keep this car in one piece."

He managed to do enough of that to slip into the elite field of 10 drivers in the Chase for the championship, earning the final spot in the last race of eligibility two weeks ago in Richmond, Va. Then he won for the first time all season in New Hampshire to move into a tie for third.

But Newman won't be overly excited should he win Sunday's $5 million race.

"You can't just count them two or three," he said. "It's going to take 10 races to win a championship."

There is no magic formula to Newman's recent success, even though he calls it a turnaround of sorts.

"We just try to keep the car going faster and faster each run," he said.

That means qualifying as well as racing. Newman has the pole Sunday on the strength of a qualifying session Friday.

He took his Dodge around the track at 158.102 mph to easily claim his series-leading sixth pole. He'll start first Sunday for the 33rd time in just his fifth year in Cup racing and do it on a track he loves.

"It's not necessarily the concrete," he said "It's just the shape of it and the speed and the banking."

Stewart also likes Dover, where he swept the races in 2000. He has been a picture of consistency just about everywhere in the second half of the season with 13 straight top-10 finishes.

Still, Stewart hopes crew chief Greg Zipadelli can come up with an improved package Sunday.

"We need to be a little better than we are," Stewart said after his final practice Saturday. "But I didn't knock the fence down."

But Stewart's bid for a series-leading sixth victory might not be so easy Sunday. He starts 31st in a field of 43, but seems unconcerned despite the crash-filled history of the track that included a 14-car pileup in the Busch race.

"I've won from 24th on back twice, so I'm not worried about it," the 2002 series champion said. "But we're starting where we're starting. You can still get in trouble."

His confidence is usually elevated at Dover. He said a good handling car in the race is more important than a good qualifying position.

"It's a track where you can pass," he said.

Kasey Kahne will start second, making it an all-Dodge front row. Rookie Kyle Busch qualified third followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and two-time Dover winner and Chase contender Jimmie Johnson. That meant the third through fifth positions on the grid were all Chevrolets.

Rusty Wallace, a three-time winner here and tied with teammate Newman for third in the standings, will line up sixth. Four-time Dover winner and Chase participant Mark Martin, Bobby Hamilton Jr., Joe Nemechek and reigning series champion Kurt Busch complete the top 10. Martin is seventh in the points and Busch 10th.

Greg Biffle, second in the standings, starts 18th. Chasers Matt Kenseth, a former champion; and Carl Edwards, will go from the 11th and 32nd positions.

WATKINS GLEN INDY GRAND PRIX: At Watkins Glen, N.Y., Helio Castroneves won the pole for the inaugural Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix on Saturday, posting the fastest lap in a 10-minute shootout among the top six cars.

Castroneves covered the 3.37-mile, 11-turn Watkins Glen International road course at a record 133.806 mph, edging IRL newcomer Giorgio Pantano (133.774 mph) and knocking Scott Dixon (133.497 mph) from first to fourth. Patrick Carpentier qualified third (133.629 mph).

The IRL established a unique qualifying format for the three street/road courses on this year's schedule. After all 20 drivers finished their single-lap qualifying runs, positions seven through 20 were locked in and the top six drivers ran an extra 10 minutes on new tires in an effort to improve their positions.

Unlike the road race last month at Sonoma, where the top six remained the same after the extra session, Castroneves moved up one spot, Carpentier and Pantano each moved up three, Tony Kanaan (133.381 mph) fell one spot to fourth, and Dario Franchitti (132.995 mph) fell two to sixth.

"Once I made the top six, it was, 'OK, now it's time to go for it,' " Castroneves said after winning his second pole of the season and 18th of his career. "The track looked like it was getting better, and I said, 'One of those guys is going to stick one and I'm going to be so upset.' Then I really went for it.

"I was a little worried when I heard his (Pantano's) time," Castroneves said of his Italian challenger. "I was hoping he ate a lot of macaroni today. I guess I was in the right place at the right time."