The final chequered flag of the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup season will wave at Homestead-Miami Speedway Sunday with the running of the Ford 400. Ryan Newman and his #12 ALLTEL team are hoping to make the best of the southern Florida season finale.

"I have only two starts at Homestead; one was in a Busch car and the other was last year's Winston Cup race," said Newman. "Both were good finishes, but the cars weren't handling the way I would have liked during both races. It's important for us to unload a good handling car and learn quickly. We can't afford to play catch up this weekend. It's a whole new game for all the teams this weekend with the reconfigured track, and we're back to square one with the ALLTEL Dodge."

Newman's run at Homestead last season produced an eighth-place finish after fighting an illhandling racecar. He rallied to come from one lap down to finish on the lead lap and wrap up Rookie of the Year honours.

Only a few drivers have seen the reconfigured track and had the opportunity to run laps there. Goodyear recently performed a tyre test, which allowed Dave Blaney and Johnny Benson to get a feel for the new 1.5-mile layout.

"The reconfiguration at Homestead isn't a big deal to me," said Newman. "Dave Blaney mentioned that the changes didn't affect his ability to get around the track or make the car feel much different. What I think will be interesting is just having new pavement. I'm curious if there will be multiple racing grooves with the new pavement. Take Atlanta, for instance. It was a one-groove racetrack when they put down new pavement, but as the pavement got older, it became a multiple groove racetrack. It will be interesting to see if, right off the bat, Homestead will have more than one groove."

The EA Sports NASCAR Thunder 2004 game has the new Homestead-Miami Speedway on it. Some drivers have been getting a little testing time by playing the video game. Playing the video, Newman said, has given him an easier route around Darlington and Bristol. Will he have Homestead mastered before the open test date?

"I haven't played Homestead on the 2004 NASCAR game, but have been told it's on there, so I may check it out," Newman said. "My crew has been hounding me to get it out and play it because they think that's my ticket to winning this weekend. I laughed and told them I'd get around to it, and I will. I play the games so much that I pick up on things quickly. I'll probably wait until the night before the open test to make a few laps on the couch, but I'm looking forward to the real experience of it before making any big decisions."

What are crew chief Matt Borland's thoughts going into the last race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

"Homestead looks like it's going to be a lot faster racetrack," Borland said. "It's going to be nice to have several lanes to race on and should provide good racing and new challenges for everyone. It's a race that no one will have any advantages over the next guy - unless they play those video games like Ryan. It will definitely be interesting to see which teams get a handle on it right off the bat and come out the quickest.

"We haven't changed our strategy or the way we've done anything for this race. We've had an up and down year, but fought our way back into a close points battle. We've gotten the qualifying thing down pat and were able to get the chemistry we lacked the first part of the season really going. The consistency was missing for a while, but we got it going in the second half of the season. I'm hoping for a great weekend to cap off the great year we've had."

Going into the final race, Newman has recorded 11 pole positions and won eight races. He has 17 top-five and 22 top-ten finishes. He is currently fourth in the Winston Cup point standings, only 65 points behind third.

"I don't have any worries going into this weekend about the track's changes," said Newman. "The ALLTEL Dodge always runs well, but they added some more banking, so that will be interesting. It would be nice to unload fast and win the first pole on the new configuration, but we'll see."



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