Newman anxious to step up performance

The Rocketman wants everyone to know that he has not forgotten how to fly. Ryan Newman is mired in the worst start of his Nextel Cup career and he is anxious to ramp up his performance. If it's just the same to everyone else, he'd like to...

The Rocketman wants everyone to know that he has not forgotten how to fly.

Ryan Newman is mired in the worst start of his Nextel Cup career and he is anxious to ramp up his performance. If it's just the same to everyone else, he'd like to do it now.

Newman has just two top-10 finishes in the first eight races of the season and after finishing 40th in Texas and then 39th in Phoenix last weekend, Newman is 22nd in the standings, 461 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. It's not impossible for Newman and his #12 Dodge team to rally back and earn their place in the Chase for the Championship for the third straight year, but he knows as well as anyone that they need to get back on track now.

"We're definitely to a point where we're struggling now," said Newman, who was involved in crashes in the past two races. "It's not that we're running fifth to seventh and not winning races and people saying 'you're winning poles and not winning races.' We're struggling to get to seventh on any point in the race and that's put more emphasis on racing and made our qualifying performances less than they've been in the past."

Newman hopes that the Aaron's 499 at Talladega on Sunday (1:30 p.m. Eastern on FOX) is a good start in that direction. He tied his career best finish with a fourth-place effort in Talladega last October and had a strong race in the season-opening Daytona 500, where he picked up a season-best third place finish.

"I'm looking forward to working with (new teammate) Kurt (Busch) again like we did at Daytona," said Newman, who led 23 laps in Daytona. "That's been the highlight of our season still, and that's a pretty good highlight. Going to Talladega drafting, with where we're at, both the 12 and 2 car in points, if we finish 1-2 or 2-1 it doesn't matter to me. We just need to have a good run there and a good run for Penske Racing."

Newman admits that his lack of success so far this season has taken its toll on him.

"The emotional feeling is obviously, I won't say depression, but sometimes disgust, sometimes frustration, sometimes a little bit just frustrated and upset," Newman said. "The bottom line is I know we had a rough off season at Penske Racing. I think everything kind of hit us."

Newman points out that Personnel changes at Penske racing during the off-season, including the retirement of Rusty Wallace, Busch coming in from Roush Racing, and closing up shop on the #77 team, along with their struggles to adapt to the new Dodge Charger, has made it difficult to stay competitive.

"(Crew chief) Matt (Borland) and a lot of people at the shop had been so in depth in meetings and things like that to make the car go fast that we haven't been able to put a lot of emphasis and focus on making the Alltel Dodge go around in a circle real quick," Newman said. "I think that is part of it. I think we're playing catch-up with a few things technology-wise and I see that getting better over time, obviously. Our struggle in race trim has put more emphasis on us doing race trim in practice."

Despite their struggles so far, Newman is encouraged by the gains that they've made in recent weeks.

"Even though we crashed out there at Phoenix I had a smile on my face because that's one of the first times all year we've been competitive enough to pass cars and move up on runs," said Newman, who started 13th last week. "We had a car that was easily a top-10 car and I think in the right situation it could have been a top-five car. I don't think it was the fastest car on the track, but it showed a lot of highlights for us this year as far as being able to do things we used to be able to do without even questioning if we could do it."

Newman's calling card since joining the circuit full time in 2002 has been his ability to qualify well. He has dominated the Bud Pole Award for the past four seasons, including last year when he led the series with eight poles. His best start so far this year was second at Atlanta.

"We haven't put as much emphasis in qualifying this year because we're struggling in the races," admitted Newman, who started in the top-10 in the first 13 races last season. "It would be nice to where we could focus on both equally and be good at both."

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Series NASCAR-CUP