Newman looking to take over the lead in Kansas

Ryan Newman may have snuck his way into the Chase for the Championship - locking up the final spot at the last possible minute - but the Rocket Man has returned to form in the past three races and is looking forward to another strong run at Kansas...

Ryan Newman may have snuck his way into the Chase for the Championship - locking up the final spot at the last possible minute - but the Rocket Man has returned to form in the past three races and is looking forward to another strong run at Kansas that could vault him to the top of the standings.

Newman kicked off the final 10-race playoff with a win in New Hampshire. He followed up with a fifth place finish at Dover and brought his Alltel Dodge home fourth last Sunday at Talladega to move up to second place in the standings. He trails Tony Stewart by just four points.

"Well, those are three good finishes, for sure," said Newman, who had just five top-5 finishes in the first 26 races of the season. "We just need to keep that up - we'll just try to keep going."

Kansas is the perfect place for Newman to make his move to the top. In four starts at the 1.5 mile speedway, Newman has three top-5 finishes, including a win there two years ago. He will be looking for a repeat performance in the Banquet 400 presented by ConAgra Foods on Sunday (1:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC).

Newman has been hot and cold on the mile-and-a-half speedways this season. He finished fifth at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but limped to a 29th place showing in Chicago. The team knows that they need to be more consistent on the mid-size tracks the rest of the way. The championship depends on it. Five of the last seven races on the schedule are 1.5-mile circuits.

"I think we can definitely do a lot better than we have," said Newman, who also has a win at Texas and five poles each at Charlotte and Atlanta - including both events earlier this season. "We ran really good at Charlotte, and we struggled at Atlanta and Texas. But, we look forward to the competition. We look forward to trying. We've made some big gains, and we'll see if they pay off."

The entire Dodge camp has struggled to find victory lane this season. The manufacturer introduced the Charger nameplate for competition this season, but the teams have had a difficult time getting a handle on the new body. Before Newman's win in New Hampshire, only Kasey Kahne (Richmond in May) and Jeremy Mayfield (Michigan in August) had won races this season.

"I think it was very obvious for the first half of the year that all of the Dodges struggled," said Newman, who won 11 races in the past three seasons. "Jeremy won a race at Michigan on fuel mileage. Kasey won a short track race. Up until our Loudon win, we didn't have much to talk about in the Dodge camp. It's obvious that the Dodges have struggled all year."

The new Chase format has given the #12 team new hope for claiming its first championship. Despite his recent surge, Newman would be in eighth place, 620 points behind Stewart under the old points system. As luck would have it, Newman was a key to the argument that the points system needed an overhaul. When Matt Kenseth raced off with the championship with just one victory in 2003, Newman led the series with eight wins but finished sixth in the standings.

"I still have the same kind of mixed feelings that I've always had," said Newman, who has never led the championship point standings. "I've always said that from a competitor's standpoint, I don't think it's the ideal points system. It's definitely equal for everybody. Everybody has an equal opportunity up until the last 10 races. I really haven't changed my outlook on it at all. That's what we have to deal with, and that's fine with me."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman , Kasey Kahne