Thursday, June 28, 2007

Newman well qualified at N.H. track

By Seth Livingstone, USA TODAY
No NASCAR driver is faster than Ryan Newman when it comes to Nextel Cup qualifying.
The driver of the No. 12 Dodge recently passed Hall of Fame driver David Pearson to top the chart in career pole percentage. This season, Newman has four poles in his first 14 races, tying Mark Martin for 11th all time with 41.

This weekend, Newman races at New Hampshire International Speedway where no driver has won more poles (four).

Newman's 41 poles have come in 204 career starts. Martin has started 686 races. Richard Petty is the sport's all-time leader in poles with 123 in 1,184 races. Jeff Gordon, the leader among active drivers with 61 poles (five this season), has 489 starts.

The bottom line: Once in every five starts, Newman sits on the inside of the front row.

His secret from the driver's seat? "Hit that line, stay on the line and do it fast," Newman says. "It's about optimizing the grip and the balance so I can do what I need to do on a lap or lap-and-a-half."

Behind Newman is a unit just as focused. Mike Nelson, crew chief for the Penske Racing team, says he places more emphasis on qualifying well than some other teams might.

"Qualifying is important to us," he says. "If it's not as important to some other guys, then maybe that's an advantage for us." Preparing a car for a qualifying lap — putting it in "qualifying trim" — differs slightly from race preparation.

"For the most part, it's about aerodynamics," Nelson says.

Unlike 2003 when Newman sat on the pole 11 times and won eight races, he hasn't won in 2007.

"I'm not frustrated at all," says Newman, who is 13th in points and contending for a spot in the Chase for the Cup. "We're knocking on the door of victory."

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