Newman looks forward to a fresh start

Loudon, New Hampshire is a long way from the South Pacific island region of Vanuatu, but the two places may have more in common than ever before. This week they are both hosting the start of their own form of Survivor.

The final top-10 for the "Chase for the Championship": Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Jeremy Mayfield, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Elliott Sadler, Kurt Busch and Mark Martin.
Photo by Autostock.
Vanuatu is the seventh location for the popular realty television show, but for 10 of NASCAR's brightest stars, this week marks the start of a 10-race chase to see who will survive and win the inaugural Nextel Cup.

Ryan Newman is hoping to shake out of his season-long funk and score a win on Sunday in the Sylvania 300 (1:00 p.m. ET on TNT). He has a win and four top-5's in five career races at NHIS and has the best average finish among the 10 contenders for the title.

"Everybody is in the same boat now," said Newman, who narrowly clinched a spot in the "Chase for the Championship" despite a 20th place finish at Richmond last weekend. "It's just who gets to be a survivor. I feel good about it, but like I've said, any little thing can take you out -- any person, little debris (or) bad luck."

Newman, who was very outspoken when the new championship format was introduced, may stand to be the biggest beneficiary of the format. His 416 point deficit to leader Jeff Gordon was just slashed down to 45. With a win this Sunday at NHIS, Newman could jump from 10th to first in just eight days.

"I (still) don't think it's right," Newman admitted. "It's just not right from a points system standpoint for it to be that way. The bottom line (is that) it is that way right now. It is what it is and we'll treat it that way. Everybody had an equal opportunity this year, and luckily we made it into the top 10. We made it in and we'll focus on what we have to do next."

Newman paced practice at NHIS on Friday and will start the race 10th after rain interrupted qualifying midway through the session. The field was set by points.

Ryan Newman.
Photo by John Cote - IRL.
"Track position is very important at New Hampshire," explained Newman, who has started on the pole in New Hampshire three times. "The track is very hard to pass on, so you have to maintain good track position, through pit stops, pit strategy and hard core racing throughout the entire race."

Newman is hoping that a return to New Hampshire will help bounce his team back into championship form. Newman claimed his first of 10 career wins in New Hampshire two years ago.

"That was absolutely incredible," Newman reflected. "The whole weekend was amazing, setting the track record winning my first race. It doesn't get much better than that."

Newman was strong again at NHIS in July. He led a race-high 187 laps before fading at the end and finishing third. Unfortunately for the #12 team, most of the other drivers battling for the championships also had quality runs, including race-winner Kurt Busch. Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart also finished in the top-5.

"We led the most laps, but came up a little short at the end," Newman said. "We're taking the same car with us this weekend, so hopefully we'll get the same results, maybe even a little better. I think we've got a lot of potential going into these last 10 races. We'll just have to do our best and see what happens."

Ryan Newman.
Photo by Thomas Chemris.
After winning a series-high eight races in 2003, Newman was a popular pre-season pick to claim the NEXTEL Cup. In fact, it was Newman's second-half performance in 2003 that had media and fans alike questioning the format for crowning NASCAR's champion.

The #12 team has gotten off to slow starts in each of their first three seasons in the Cup circuit. After finishing 31st in the Daytona 500 and 27th in Las Vegas, Newman found himself mired in 21st place in the points standings in March. The group rallied back with a win and four top-5 finishes in the past 12 races and hope to use this Mulligan to get their program back into championship form.

"We won the battle, but we haven't won the war," Newman said. "We'll get our guns polished up for the last 10 races and do what we have to do as a team to stay focused and take the right racecars to the right race tracks and make the right calls. The driver will try not to make any mistakes and make sure we don't have any DNFs, engines failures and mechanical problems and go from there."