Originally created 06/04/06

Newman, Mayfield get a break



DOVER, Del. - Jeremy Mayfield stopped counting points a long time ago. The Chase for the Championship is no longer on the team's radar. His goals are much simpler - leading laps and finishing races.

His second-place starting position in today's Neighborhood Excellence 400 at Dover International Speedway (2 p.m., FX) is, for now, a step in the right direction. It's a long way from where the team needs to be, especially with 400 laps ahead at the track known as "The Monster Mile," but it's the first bit of good news the team has had in months.

"We have to get better; we've got to step it up," Mayfield said.

The front row of Ryan Newman and Mayfield represents a curious turn in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season. Both are two-time qualifiers for the Chase, and both are struggling to finish races, much less contend for a top-10 spot in the standings to make the Chase this year. Newman is ranked 22nd; Mayfield is 34th.

"I'm just happy to be going in the right direction," Newman said Friday after posting a lap of 154.622 mph in his Dodge Charger. "That'll lead to a good pit selection and a good start for a 400-mile race. That's definitely important for us."

Qualifying proved to be a significant turn of good luck for both drivers. Rain late Friday created a two-hour delay in qualifying with only nine drivers remaining. Instead of calling off time trials and creating a starting lineup based on the current standings, NASCAR waited out the rain and finished.

"I have to commend NASCAR and the racetrack or the combination of the two to get the track dried off in fairness to the whole field for the people who needed to qualify on speed," Newman said. "Mother Nature worked out for us getting a little sunlight and drying the track out pretty quick. I was definitely a little bit nervous."

NASCAR's patience cost points leader Jimmie Johnson. He spun during qualifying and will start 42nd. If the sanctioning body didn't wait out the rain, Johnson would have started on the pole, Newman would have been 22nd and Mayfield, whose Dodge was clocked at 154.063 mph, would have been back in 34th.

Instead, Jeff Gordon is third at 154.063 mph, Kurt Busch is fourth at 153.774, Kevin Harvick is fifth at 153.662.

There are 14 races remaining until the Chase starts. Newman and Mayfield aren't mathematically eliminated, but they know it will take an enormous comeback.

"We don't have a choice - we have to get better," Mayfield said.

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.

Not-so-hot starts

Nextel Cup regulars Ryan Newman and Jeremy Mayfield start on the front row of today's race, hoping to change their fortunes in a dismal 2006 season so far:

Race Mayfield Newman
Daytona 500 36 3
Auto Club 500 (California) 22 20
UAW 500 (Las Vegas) 25 43
Golden Corral 500 (Atlanta) 41 18
Food City 500 (Bristol) 16 9
DirecTV 500 (Martinsville) 26 18
RadioShack 500 (Texas) 31 40
Subway 500 (Phoenix) 26 39
Aaron's 499 (Talladega) 13 33
Crown Royal 400 (Richmond) 32 8
Dodge 500 (Darlington) 38 6
Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte) 15 35
In Points Standings 34 22