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NASCAR Newman, Johnson favorites at Dover



Published: Sat, June 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Johnson is on the pole, but Newman has won three of the last four races here.

DOVER, Del. (AP) -- Ryan Newman believes he has the answers when it comes to racing at Dover International Speedway. Jimmie Johnson is trying to regain the advantage he once had on The Monster Mile.

They will be among the drivers to beat today on the high-banked concrete oval where Newman has won three of the last four races.

"It's just a matter of getting it right through the corners because the straightaways in reference to the corners are relatively short," Newman said. "You have to have a car that corners really good here."

Newman won here in September and had a strong car last June, but wrecked his chances for victory by hitting the soft barrier while trying to enter pit road late in the race. He wound up 24th.

Tough to negotiate

The entrance to pit road here, and at many NASCAR tracks, can be difficult to negotiate, but an occasional gaffe can be overlooked if a driver knows how to negotiate the tight and narrow track generally considered one of the most difficult on the Nextel Cup circuit. Newman has shown that he knows how to get around the place better than most.

"This track is so unique you usually have to come here knowing what you're doing because it's concrete, because of the banking, because of the way the straightaways are," he explained. "If you've got it right in the past it's easy to get it right again -- usually."

Still trying to figure it out is Johnson, given the pole in his Chevrolet for the MBNA 400 when rain prevented qualifying Friday and the field was set by car-owner points. With a 71-point lead over Greg Biffle, Johnson will start from the pole here for the first time.

Struggled in last two starts

He and crew chief Chad Knauss are hoping for better performances than Johnson had in his last two starts here. He was involved in a crash last June and finished 32nd. In September, Johnson improved to 10th, but that was nowhere near as impressive as his earlier Dover races.

As a rookie in 2002, he swept here. He is one of only nine drivers to do that since NASCAR began staging two races each summer at Dover in 1971.

"We're trying to figure out what has changed," Johnson said. "We've been in the top five, top 10, but not as dominant as we were in that rookie season."

Johnson realizes that no driver in this era holds an advantage very long at any track. Teams that win are reluctant to make changes in their chassis setups and those that lose know they can't continue a program that is not paying dividends.

Gap closes quickley

"The second year we came back, the gap closed up tremendously and we're still trying to figure out how to get that advantage back," he said.

Going over the line with a setup is not the answer, Johnson insists.

"You can really overwork the right front tire here," he explained. "You see tires blow here."

It's all about finding a comfort zone. If the car handles well in the turns, it should be competitive in the race, Johnson explained.

"You're going to be up front," he said. "You're not going to have a tire issue."




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