BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) – Ryan Newman is sixth in the points standings and, as usual, is leading NASCAR’s Nextel Cup Series in poles. The only thing missing from his season is a victory.

“There’s races we could have won,” said Newman, who has 11 career wins, but none since last September at Dover. “We just haven’t had things fall our way this year. It’s so competitive now that you have to have more than just a great car; you also have to have some luck go your way.”

Newman will try to remedy the situation Sunday in the Batman Begins 400 at Michigan International Speedway, a track at which he has won twice and has four top-five finishes in seven starts, including a win last June. Newman, who also won here in August 2003, is the only driver to have won more than once in the past 11 races on the two-mile, high-banked Michigan oval.

It’s also the only track where Newman, who has 31 poles in 103 Cup races, has reached Victory Lane but has yet to lead qualifying. After being fastest in practice Friday with a lap of 192.164 mph, that is something he could change in time trials on Saturday.

“We’ve always seemed to have a good combination when it comes to going to Michigan,” Newman said. “Actually, this is one of the racetracks where we’ve raced better than we’ve qualified statistically in the past.”

One reason for Newman’s success here is his comfort level being just a two-hour drive from his hometown of South Bend, Ind., and about the same distance from Niles, Mich., where his father owned a race shop for years.

“I enjoy being here and going fishing and I enjoy the atmosphere,” Newman said. “It’s probably the closest to home for me from an environment standpoint.”

That would make it even more enjoyable for Newman to get his season into high gear this weekend with a victory.

The surprising thing to many people is that NASCAR’s “Rocketman” hasn’t won more.

After winning just once on the way to rookie of the year honors in 2002, he visited Victory Lane a series-high eight times the next season, but slipped back to two wins in 2004 and has gone 14 races so far this season without finishing better than third.

“After his second year, winning all those races, since then I think everybody’s been a little surprised he hasn’t won more,” said Ray Evernham, who guided Jeff Gordon to 47 of his 72 Cup victories as a crew chief and has helped develop last year’s top rookie, Kasey Kahne, into a rising star.

Evernham pointed out that Newman has won a number of races on fuel mileage and strategy, which is less important under NASCAR’s current tire and aerodynamics rules. And NASCAR’s new gearing rule, designed to cut RPM and reduce the number of engine failures, has also hurt the Dodge teams, including Evernham Motorsports and Penske Racing South, which fields teams for Newman, Rusty Wallace and rookie Travis Kvapil.

“Ryan’s fast,” Evernham added. “He’s going to win, but I think sometimes they’re struggling a little bit same as we are where this gear rule might be a little better at some places for Ford and Chevy. And they probably haven’t hit their balance yet the way they want to with the (Dodge) Charger.”

For Michigan, though, Newman said, “I don’t see the gear rule having a huge effect, if any, on the racing.”

A bigger concern could be tires.

Last Sunday at Pocono, as Newman appeared on the way to his fifth straight top-10 finish, one of his Goodyear tires blew, sending Newman hard into the wall. He was the latest of a number of drivers who have smacked the wall this season after they had a tire suddenly deflate.

“I actually complimented Goodyear last week for having a tire that didn’t marble up and gave us an opportunity to run high in the corners,” Newman said. “The part that wasn’t so good was the fact that there were several tire failures.

“Not everybody runs the same (air) pressure and not everybody runs the same camber at other racetracks and we don’t have those issues for the most part. Obviously, we had issues and other teams had issues at Pocono. I think the tire was a little too sensitive, maybe. I think we’ll be OK here.”

AP-ES-06-17-05 1725EDT


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