To all Ryan Newman friends and fans: Please excuse me.
A few days ago when I wrote about the challenges three specific drivers – Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano – faced to make the Chase, I don’t want anyone to think I had forgotten Newman.
I hadn’t, not at all. My intention was to follow up with a separate article about the Stewart Haas Racing driver.
However, in my last piece, what I did forget to do was to make it known that Newman was very much in the mix.
It just slipped my mind. Good grief, I’m not sure my memory pills are helping. Just kidding, of course.
See, Newman is 14th in points with a victory, at Martinsville, and is 70 points out of the top 10 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings.
Newman is ranked No. 3 in the “wildcard” standings behind Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch, who are, as of now, the leading contenders outside of the top 10 to make the Chase.
Kahne is 13th in points with two victories. As it is now, his two wins are highest among those not in the top 10 in points. Presently he has something of a comfort zone.
But Busch, 11th in points, is ahead of Kahne in the standings and is 55 points out of 10th. If he wins for a second time he strengthens his hold on a “wildcard” spot.
If Logano, who is 17th in points and drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, can win for a second time this season, he, too, will rise as one of the two contenders for a “wildcard” entry.
Newman equates with Busch and Logano. He is 14th in points, 70 out of 10th, but a second victory will accomplish, for him, what it will also do for his rivals – it will put him at the point of “wildcard” contention.
However, for the South Bend, Ind., native, another victory may not be easy.
Although he won at Martinsville in April, Newman hasn’t had a sniff at victory since. In fact he has finished among the top 10 only three times.
However, those finishes have come in the last three weeks, which has to be considered, competitively, as a positive.
Newman was fifth at Daytona, 10th at New Hampshire and seventh at Indy. During that span, he rose from 15th to 14th in points.
But there are only six races remaining before the Chase begins. For Newman, and his rivals, time is running short.
Unlike some – not all – of them, Newman can make it in more than one way. If he puts together a string of top-five runs, that could, under favorable circumstances, move him into the top10.
Or, perhaps even better, he can win again which might give him an edge regardless of where he stands in points.
Betcha he’s hoping he can accomplish the latter.
The numbers say he’s got a reasonable chance.
In the six races leading up to the Chase last year, Newman finished among the top 10 four times. His best runs were fifth at Michigan and at Pocono.
As it turns out, the Sprint Cup schedule returns to Pocono this weekend.
“Pocono is one of my favorite tracks because it is so difficult,” Newman said. “I like it because it is challenging. It’s fun to drive.
“Each corner is different. There’s a different radius, banking and bumps. Each straightaway is a different length.
“It’s a crew chief’s race track because he has to get the car to the driver’s liking in all three corners. It’s about matching how a crew chief sets up the car relative to how the driver races it to make a happy package.”
Newman won at Pocono in 2002 and his best finish since has been a second in 2007. At Pocono in June of this year, he finished 12th.
“We had a shot at a top-five finish there,” Newman said, “but I got too aggressive on the final restart and that ended up costing us a top 10.”
The Stewart Haas team brings to Pocono the same car it ran at Indy, which satisfies Newman.
“We always talk about how much Indianapolis and Pocono are alike,” Newman said. “So it made a lot of sense for us to make the decision to bring the Indy car to Pocono.”
Newman may like Pocono. He may like the car in which he will compete this weekend. He may feel that he has a good chance to earn a second victory.
But, of course, nothing is assured. In racing, it never is.
“We had hoped that by now we would be in the top 10 and not have to fall back on our win at Martinsville,” Newman said. “We all know we need another win.
“But I’m not necessarily doing anything differently. Every time we come to a track, the goal is to win.
“It will be the same thing at Pocono and beyond. We will go to win and, hopefully, we can do that and get a spot in the Chase.”
His rivals for entry into the Chase share Newman’s intentions and, certainly, his goal.
Wit six races remaining it won’t take us very long to learn who reaches that goal.