With the green flag starting the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, the Inaugural NASCAR "Chase for the Nextel Cup" begins with the final 10 events of the 2004 schedule. Two Dodge drivers are in the running for the $5-million-plus prize.
After abandoning the traditional points system used since 1975, NASCAR has implemented a new system for crowning its 2004 Nextel Cup series champion. all 43 teams race as usual during the first 26 events of the year. The top 10 in the points standing after the Chevy Rock and Roll 400, and anyone else within 400 points of the leader, were eligible to qualify. The 10 drivers that made the cut for the 2004 year are: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, and Dodge drivers Jeremy Mayfield and Ryan Newman.
Both Jeremy Mayfield and Ryan Newman let the rest of the eligible drivers know that winning the Inaugural NASCAR Nextel Cup wasn't going to be a cake walk. Mayfield took the checker in his No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Intrepid in the Chevy Rock and Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway, while "Rocket Man" Ryan Newman, driving the No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge, claimed the win in the MBNA America 400 at Dover International Speedway.
"We've not only got momentum, but my guys just won their first race," smiled Mayfield. "A lot of guys on this team have never been to victory lane. Now all those guys know what it's like. They know what it feels like, and they know they can do it. I feel like it was the turning point for the team, probably the biggest turning point ever. A year ago at Richmond, we ran second to Ryan Newman, and now a year later we win the race.
"Rocket Man" Ryan Newman was equally positive after the ALLTEL Dodge's win at Dover. "It was a great team effort. We didn't get a chance to come here and test. We've been busy testing at places like Richmond and Loudon, but a lot of guys got a chance to come here and test. It felt good to get a chance to come here and run as good as we did. The pit stops went great, and that gave us good track position, which was important. We were able to fight our way through traffic quite a few times. I don't know how many times I passed some of the lapped cars. Winning this early in the "Chase" is a big step in the right direction. We can't finish 33rd, then first, and then 33rd again. We've got to keep the top 5s going. If we can finish in the top 5 in these last nine races, then I can pretty much guarantee us a championship. We'll just keep working in that direction."
Both Mayfield and Newman are primed for the run to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, and on to the stage in New York and the Inaugural NASCAR Nextel Cup. stay tuned!