When Not If

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DOVER, Del. - Ryan Newman's aura of invincibility has been replaced by one of inevitability. At some point, everyone expects last year's dominating driver will start winning again. This week could be the week.

A victory in Sunday's MBNA 400 "A Salute to Heroes" at Dover International Speedway for Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) would have a couple of ramifications. Not only would it reestablish Newman as a prime NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship contender, but it would also make him only the fourth driver to win three consecutive races at the famed "Monster Mile."

Former series champions Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) and David Pearson are the others. Gordon won 1995's second race, then swept in 1996. Wallace won 1993's second event, then swept in 1994. Pearson won 1972's second event, then swept in 1973.

Newman's 2003 sweep was part of an eight-win season. He also had 11 poles. Both totals were series-highs. Another total, seven DNFs, doomed his series championship chances.

Newman comes into Dover ninth in points, without a win but with plenty of confidence. He has never finished outside of the Top 10 at Dover. In addition to last year's wins he finished fourth and eighth there in 2002. His average Dover finishing position is 3.50.

"I really like this race track, which makes a difference in how a driver performs," Newman said. "Typically it's a pretty good race (at Dover). Cars are able to pass instead of beating on each other to get by. To me, that's a good recipe for good racing. I've enjoyed and done well at it there."

In addition to winning both Dover events last year, Newman won the Bud Pole for the spring race. Qualifying for last season's September event was rained out, thanks to Hurricane Isabel. Weather was the only thing that could hinder Newman at Dover.

"The bottom line is that we've proven we can get around the race track and win there," Newman said. "The determining factor now is we have to go back there and repeat.

"We have no excuse (for failing). We've been the fastest car (in qualifying) on Friday and best car (in the race) on Sunday. Now we just need to go back and do the best job we can, like we did last year."

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