Friday, June 22, 2007

Newman hopes hot streak continues at Sonoma race

Ryan Newman this week didn't completely close the door on speculation he's part of the Nextel Cup Series' "Silly Season" mix, but he hinted a driver shortage might be behind team owners being more interested in him, than he is in leaving his Penske Racing team.

Penske has fielded Newman's cars since his first ARCA RE/MAX Series stock car start in 2000 and his Cup debut at the end of that year.

"Yeah, I have no reason not to be [where I want to be]," Newman said. "Roger has given me great resources. I'm happy where I'm at [but] I think with the quality rides that are open that they're looking for some drivers to put in there, and I think there is somewhat of a driver shortage right now in the Cup Series.

"It doesn't surprise me, but I'll approach any situation the way I feel I need to."

Newman made no bones about the fact he and his Penske Racing No. 12 Dodge teammates are keen to continue a streak of strong runs this weekend in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

"I think we have a really good opportunity to get in the Chase," Newman said. "At this point last year I thought we had a mathematical chance to make it, but I didn't think we were going to with our performances.

"This year with our recent performances and even the problems we had at Michigan, blowing that tire, we still had a top-seven racecar. We ran on the racetrack and would have finished seventh or eighth or so.

"That's a lot of hope. I'm looking forward to these next races and our COT program, on top of that, has been very strong. I think we're one of the top COT teams, and with the stretch of races of that's right before the Chase, I think we'll have a good shot before, during and after."

Newman, who was akin to a supernova on the Cup horizon in 2003 and 2004, when he scored 20 of his 41 career Bud Poles and 10 of his 12 victories, has been more reserved of late.

His career hit its post-nova nadir in 2006 when Newman neither won nor qualified for the Chase for the Nextel Cup. He was 18th in the standings, the first year since he started full-time in 2002 that he was out of the year-end top 10.

So far in 2007, Newman's looking to correct that.

He has double the poles (four to two), more top fives (three to two) and one less top 10 (six to seven) in 15 races than he achieved all of last season in 36.

"I can't really quantify it, I can just tell you from a team standpoint the guys are doing a good job of preparing the racecars," Newman said. "The cars are faster, which makes my job easier."

Newman might not be able to tell you exactly how, but he's certainly enjoying the results.

"I think the most important part is just from a mental standpoint," Newman said. "My confidence in driving the car, [crew chief] Michael Nelson's confidence in my reports about what the car is doing and the changes we've made to make the car faster have been the biggest thing.

"My confidence to be able to hit my marks and drive the car the way I want to drive it for that extra tenth of a second is really big."

And he has no reason to believe it won't continue this weekend at Infineon, where he and Penske teammate Kurt Busch finished second and fifth, respectively, last season.

"In my opinion, the COT has been better on the road course as far as testing goes compared to the COT on the short track so I don't think it's going to be that much different [than the standard cars]," Newman said. "I think the biggest reason why, is the COT is a non offset car, so it's more conducive to road-course racing."

Newman cited his teammates' cooperation as a big part of both teams' success, which has resulted in them sitting 15th and 16th in the standings, 11 races before the cutoff for the Chase.

"I think the third part of [our improvement] is the two teams are really working good together," Newman said. "They've never worked better together, I can tell you that -- and I think there's still room for the two teams to grow working together.

"That's been a big part of our improvement as well."

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