Consistency Got Winless Newman Into Championship Final

Ryan Newman had to take a big chance on the last lap of the race in Phoenix to make it to the Chase final. He did so and was successful.

Ryan Newman had to take a big chance on the last lap of the race in Phoenix to make it to the Chase final. He did so and was successful.

There are some observers who say that Ryan Newman should not be in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, much less one of the four drivers who are eligible to win this year’s championship.

Why? Because he has not won a race. And wasn’t this new Chase format designed to reward victory? It seems unreasonable for a driver who has not won to join three who have in the Chase’s final round at Homestead.

Yes, Newman hasn’t won. But he earned a berth in the finals not by victory, but by consistency. His steady, if unspectacular, performances in the Chase – and minimal involvement in accidents and mechanical maladies – not only kept him alive in each round of the Chase, but also moved him forward.

In the first three races of the Chase, known as the Challenger Round, Newman scored just one top-10 finish. Yet, overall, he was good enough to be in 9th place in points – comfortably among the 12 drivers that advanced.

In the next three races that composed the Contender Round, Newman fared much better. He didn’t have a finish below 7th and was solidly in third place among the eight drivers who moved ahead.

Then came the next three races known as the Eliminator Round. Newman started well with a third-place run at Martinsville but stumbled a bit when he finished 15th at Texas.

When that race was over Newman remained in third place but was only 10 points ahead of Jeff Gordon – which figured prominently in the round’s final race at Phoenix.

The final four was set thusly:

Kevin Harvick won the race and that granted him an automatic berth in the final.

Contenders Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano saved themselves with some gritty, determined racing. Both made up lost laps to finish fifth and sixth, respectively, and make it to Homestead.

Newman is winless this season but he has been solidly consistent, which put him into the Chase and a chance for the title.

Newman is winless this season but he has been solidly consistent, which put him into the Chase and a chance for the title.

Gordon was primed to be the fourth entry. He was running second to Harvick on the last lap. Newman was 12th and needed to pick up a single point, somehow, if he was going to make the final.

There is an unwritten rule in NASCAR that says when drivers are on the last lap and racing for a victory, rules don’t apply – well, at least for the most part.

What that means is one driver can nudge, shove, plow or root another out of the way to win a race. Wrecking him is a different story which creates immediate controversy – but it’s happened.

Newman had to do what he could. And what he did was to slide up into the side of Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet and send him high up the track, but not into the wall.

Newman finished 11th, good enough to remove Gordon from the Chase.

Newman, who drives for Richard Childress Racing, knew exactly what he was doing against Larson. He knew there was no other way.

“In the end we fought back hard, did what we had to as clean as I possibly could,” Newman said. “I wasn’t proud of it, but I will do what I got to do to make it to this next round. 

“Kyle Larson has got a lot of things coming in this sport.  He used me up like that at Eldora in a truck a couple of years ago.  From my standpoint I call it even, but I think if he was in my position he would have probably done the same thing.”

“It’s a little upsetting he pushed me up to the wall, but I completely understand the situation he was in, and can’t fault him for being aggressive there,” Larson said. “I think a lot of drivers out here would have done something similar if they were in that position.”

Newman has been criticized for his last-lap tactics but he stands by his strategy.

“I did what I had to do as clean as I could do it,” he said. “I’m not the kind of guy to turn somebody, so I just drifted as much as I could to get in there. 

“My Chevy stuck on the apron and we made it.” Gordon, obviously, was not happy that he lost his last shot for at fifth career championship. But he did not blame Newman.“I don’t know if I’d say Newman wrecked him,” Gordon said. “He certainly ran him up the race track. That’s been OK everywhere we race.

“That’s the system that we have. Wait until next week when the championship is on the line. You’re going to see a lot more than that.

“That’s what NASCAR wants – to create intensity and interest and that’s what’s going to happen. You have to expect it.”

As said, some are not pleased that a winless Newman has a shot at a championship. Given that in its history no driver has ever won a title without winning a race, NASCAR is probably a bit concerned.

But what Newman has proven is that consistency is paramount in NASCAR. For years its point system was based exactly on that. It rewarded a driver who finished well week after week.

A competitor who regularly won a race and then tumbled to 40th in the next one never had a chance at the title.

Yes, the foundation of this Chase is victory.

But make no mistake – consistency is key. It was in the past and it remains so today.




Finally Something Good For Newman, But He Needs More

With his third-place finish in Kentucky, Ryan Newman earned his first top-five finish of the season. The Richard Childress Racing driver is still without a victory.

With his third-place finish in Kentucky, Ryan Newman earned his first top-five finish of the season. The Richard Childress Racing driver is still without a victory.

Ryan Newman finally found his way to the media center.

When a race is over, that’s where the top three finishers, with some exceptions, go to participate in press conferences.

Newman found himself in front of the media due to his third-place finish in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

Normally this sort of thing is pretty much routine for Newman. Just last year, his last with Stewart Haas Racing, Newman had one victory and six finishes among the top five. He had 18 finishes among the top 10 and won two poles.

But that was last year.

This season is Newman’s first with Richard Childress Racing. It’s taken 17 winless races for him to land a top-five finish and he now he has only six among the top 10.

Fact is, RCR hasn’t done much to brag about this year. Even though he has only one top five finish, Newman is the team leader in the point standings. He’s eighth.

Paul Menard is 11th and rookie Austin Dillon, Childress’ grandson, is 18th. RCR is winless.

While being where they are in points does not crush their hopes for competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, both Newman and Menard know it’s going to take at least one victory to make it.

Newman, as said, is without a victory this year and his best finish came at Kentucky. Prior to that, his high mark was seventh, three times.

Newman’s lone victory in 2013 came in July – and it was a lulu. Starting from the pole, he won the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races

Newman is not accustomed to being the type of driver who endures 17 races before he gets a top-five finish.

The last time Newman won a race was at the Brickyard 400 at Indy last July. It came in his last season with Stewart Haas Racing.

The last time Newman won a race was at the Brickyard 400 at Indy last July. It came in his last season with Stewart Haas Racing.

He’s the type of driver who, by this time, should have at least a half-dozen finishes among the top five – including at least one victory.

But RCR appears to be struggling competitively. Though Newman has been somewhat consistent – he’s the second-highest driver in points without a win – he knows there is work to be done.

“It’s nice for us on our team to get a top five, and it’s something to build on for sure,” Newman said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to go out and win the next race, but it gives us some confidence.

“And confidence is very powerful in our sport.”

Undoubtedly, Newman would like to see the kind of performance he and his RCR team had at Kentucky continue. Positive things happened – and that hasn’t always been the case.

“It was everything,” Newman said. “I’d say the biggest gain we had was our pit stops.  The guys gained spots, we did a good job. 

“Everything was nice and clean.  Strategy wise, Luke (Lambert, crew chief), did a great job calling two tires when we needed to and not losing track position with four when other guys were taking two, and all that adds up. 

“Having that clean air and that track position is probably more powerful than anything we do with the race car at times, so that’s probably the biggest difference.”

While Newman admits Hendrick Motorsports is perhaps the strongest team when it comes to horsepower, his own team has been working hard on the engine side – and has made some race gains.

A series of upcoming summer races, at Indy, Pocono and Michigan, may turn out to be RCR’s “proving ground.”

“Pocono, Indy, Michigan, even places like Charlotte now are so much wide open because the cars have still got too much downforce on them that it’s very important to have good horsepower, and good horsepower will win you races,” Newman said. “We’re working on that part of it for Indy and for Pocono and for Michigan. 

“I think we’re not where we need to be, but that’s why we’re working on it, and we’ll see if we can make those gains before those races come.”

You can interpret that as “the sooner the better.”

It’s Simple: Guys On Top In The Chase Have Performed Better

Although some analysts claim that any driver who starts the Chase for the Sprint Cup with at least two decidedly poor performances has no chance to win a championship, I’ve maintained that, yep, the odds are against him – but nothing is impossible.

I simply think that the completion of a couple of races is too early to determine who is going to win a title or who is already eliminated from contention.

However, there is this truth: It does give us a much better idea of who is going to remain in the running and who’s got to beat some heavy odds to get back into it.

That’s pretty much the situation after the opening Chase races at Chicago and New Hampshire. We have a good sense of which drivers are comfortably in contention, which might feel a sense of urgency and which are hanging by a thread that could snap very quickly.

Not to belabor the obvious here, but how the competitors are sorted in points after two races reflects on their on-track performance. Those who are off to good starts are higher in points than those who have stumbled – hey, that makes sense, right?

Tony Stewart came out of nowhere and won twice in the opening two weeks of the Chase. He vaulted from ninth to first in points. He did the absolute best any driver could do and his reward, for the time being, is to be in the ideal position to win his third career championship.

Kevin Harvick was second in points when the Chase began and held it after his runnerup finish at Chicago. He might still be the leader if he hadn’t stumbled a bit at New Hampshire, where he finished 12th and opened the door for Stewart. Still, Harvick remains No. 2 in the standings, only seven points behind Stewart. Right now Harvick is comfortable.

So are these drivers:

** Brad Keselowski, third place in points, just 11 behind Stewart. Keselowski is the biggest surprise of the Chase, if not the season. He has won three times this year, which earned him entry into the Chase as a “wildcard” and in 11th in points.

He’s been propelled forward by two excellent finishes in the Chase – fifth at Chicago and second at New Hampshire.

** Carl Edwards, fourth in points, 14 behind Stewart. Edwards, to date the top dog in the Chase for Roush Fenway Racing, is another example of what consistency can do. He has finishes of fourth and eighth to date and thus has gained one spot in the standings.

** Jeff Gordon, fifth in points, 23 behind Stewart. Gordon has dropped two positions since the start of the Chase but that would not have happened if he hadn’t stumbled at Chicago with a 24th-place finish. He rebounded at New Hampshire, where he finished fourth. If he hadn’t done that it’s very likely he would be in a more difficult situation.

** Kyle Busch, sixth in points, 26 behind Stewart. The younger Busch came into the Chase seeded No. 1 based upon his four victories this season. But he was 22nd at Chicago and 11th at New Hampshire. His failure to crack the top 10 is the reason for his tumble. However, it could be worse.

** Matt Kenseth, seventh in points but, like Busch, 26 behind Stewart. Kenseth is another example of the benefit of a rebound performance. He was 21st at Chicago (and fell from fourth to 10th in points) before a beneficial sixth-place run at New Hampshire. It’s the same for him as it is for Busch – it could be worse.

Things are considerably more problematic for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, eighth through 12 in points, respectively.

Interestingly, only four of the group – Earnhardt Jr., the older Busch, Newman and Johnson – have a top-10 finish in the Chase, and all were achieved in the first race at Chicago.

At New Hampshire, they were 17th (Earnhardt Jr.) or worse, which, as you can easily determine, has put them on shaky ground.

Nearly everyone has suggested that Hamlin, who finished 31st at Chicago and 29th at New Hampshire, is already cooked. He is 12th in points, 66 points in back of Stewart, and it will take a near miracle for him to recoup.

Some have said that Johnson, the five-time defending champion, is also out of the competition. But I don’t think being 29 points out of first place entirely displaces him. Johnson has been known to make up plenty of lost ground in the past – he was 136 points behind in 2006 when it paid 175 points to win. Thus, percentage-wise, he’s not as far in arrears this year.

But he faces a tough task. He’s not alone.

It’s not an impossible one, however. Johnson and Hamlin are certainly capable of winning – even two races in a row. For that matter, so are all the drivers in the Chase.

Given that, starting at Dover this weekend, things could get topsy-turvy.

But it won’t make any difference for those drivers who continue to do what all racers who strive for a championship should – win races if possible; otherwise, be consistent.

Sounds logical, obvious and ridiculously simple, doesn’t it? But it’s an absolute fact. We’ve seen evidence of it in the Chase already and there will be more in the weeks to come.

Stewart’s Timing Perfect In First Chase Race

Making the right moves involves timing. And it appears Tony Stewart knows something about timing. At least, he showed that on Monday on the race track.

Disappointed and frustrated for most of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season in a fruitless search for victory, Stewart finally won his first race of the year in the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

The race was the first of 10 in the Chase and Stewart’s victory propelled him to second place in the point standings, just seven points behind new leader Kevin Harvick.

Since Stewart came into the Chicagoland race ninth in points – after sweating out several weeks of doubt that he would make it at all – finishing first was indeed a good move.

Stewart’s late-race strategy also proved to be a good move. The Geico 400 was yet another fuel mileage race. As usual, most of the competitors were doing their best to save gas, but many of them ran out anyway.

On the last lap, several of the lead-lap cars bailed, the victims of empty gas tanks. Had they been able to run the distance the final standings would have looked much different.

Stewart, however, followed his preservation strategy perfectly – another good move – and it paid off handsomely.

“You couldn’t pick a better weekend to get that first win of the year than here at Chicago, obviously,” said Stewart, who has now won at least one race in each of the last 13 seasons, his entire Cup career. “We felt like there were three or four opportunities earlier in the year that we let some get away from us.  But we have struggled.

“We’ve had a miserable year. But the last three weeks have really started coming into it. We had a really good run in Atlanta. Good solid run last week at Richmond.

“Then to come out this weekend, I don’t think Darian (Grubb, crew chief), or either one of us, thought that we had as good a car as we needed to win today. But it didn’t take long in the race to figure out that we were pretty solid.

“It was just getting the track position.”

Stewart got that position. Afterward it was a matter of saving fuel.

The final scenario was set up on lap 213, when a caution period began after debris was found on the track. The leaders pitted. Martin Truex Jr. stayed out on the track and was in first place when the race restarted.

Matt Kenseth was second and Stewart third.

Ten laps later Kenseth passed Truex Jr. to take the lead and 10 laps after that, Stewart moved into first place after dueling with Kenseth.

Truex Jr. pitted on lap 254 with just 13 laps left in the race. From that point on it was obvious none of the leaders was going to pit. The plan was to finish the distance and in some cases, it would be a huge gamble, as some crew chiefs felt their drivers would come up as much as three laps short.

“At the end you hate to have to play the fuel mileage game,” Stewart said. “But that’s just the way the caution came out. And we came in and got fuel and Darian told me we had to save a lap’s worth of fuel.

“So we had a whole run to do it. But we kept a lot of pressure on Matt and finally got by him and once we got out to a second and a half, two-second lead we could start backing off the pace and start saving fuel.

“And I felt like I’d saved enough to get us to the end. But we came off of Turn 2 after we got the checkered and the fuel pressure was down to two pounds, and it stayed there until just shortly after we picked up the checkered flag at the flag stand. We didn’t do any wild burnout or anything like that and ran out before we ever got on pit road.

“So we were closer than I wanted to be. But we didn’t have anything to lose. Where we’re at in The Chase right now, we had to press.”

Virtually everyone in the Chase still in contention for a top-10 finish pressed, too – it’s expected of them in the “playoffs.”

But it didn’t pay off all around. On the last few laps, especially the last, so many cars turned toward pit road or fell off the pace it looked like a fleet of commuters on the freeway backed up at an exit ramp.

Among those who ran out of gas were five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin and Kenseth.

Newman finished eighth, Johnson 10th and Kenseth 21st. All are championship contenders.

Their misfortune helped other competitors gain position at race’s end. Harvick, last week’s winner at Richmond, moved into second place.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had a good run most of the day, wound up in third place. Carl Edwards moved up to fourth and Brad Keselowski was fifth.

Earnhardt Jr., another driver concerned about making the Chase, soared from 10th in points to fifth, one position behind Kurt Busch. Edwards moved from fifth to third and Keselowski took a hike from 11th place as a “wildcard” entry to sixth.

Seventh through 12th in points are, in order, Newman, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and .

The Geico 400 certainly made an impact on the Chase. For some drivers, it was bad and for others, very good.

For Stewart it was perfect.

But it must be noted, again, that the race was the first of 10 that will determine the champion.

There is a long way to go. And a lot can happen.

Loudon Cup Race and Waltrip Sues Williams F1

The Cup race at Loudon, NH yesterday produced a badly needed win for Ryan Newman. The competition has tightened. Michael Waltrip has filed suit against Williams F1 Engineering for hiring away Mike Coughlan, the designer caught up in the F1 espionage scandal.

The Punishment Fit The Crime – At Least This Time

Like most fans, I sometimes wonder if NASCAR’s penalties are effective. Do they, in fact, appropriately punish the offenders and curb the rise of, uh, crime?

I can recall a time in years past when NASCAR’s rulings were about as effective as a butter knife cutting hard cardboard. A punishment was little more than a slap on the wrist.

Oh, there were exceptions, of course. There was the time in late ‘70s when, after a wreck at Darlington, the entire side of D.K. Ulrich’s Chevrolet was stripped away. Revealed to all was a hidden nitrous oxide (laughing gas) bottle, obviously illegal. Ulrich was suspended for the final 12 races of the season.

Talk about a huge financial hit – Ulrich’s season wages plopped him at the poverty line.

There are other examples of NASCAR heavy-handedness but for the most part, NASCAR’s penalties were inconspicuous. A small fine here; probation there. Seldom were points taken away.

That changed fairly recently. When NASCAR introduced what was once known as the “car of tomorrow,” it made it very clear that the rules that applied to it, which were very strenuous and demanding, would be fully enforced.

NASCAR had prepared the car to its own standards, which were set to make it the safest, and most equal in performance, than had ever entered the sanctioning body’s Cup circuit.

It wasn’t going to let innovative engineers, crew chiefs, engineers or anyone else fool around with it.

Not that to do so was easy. The rules were so stringent whatever “gray area” the creative types found was small, indeed.

But find it they did – and then they tried to push their way around it.

When they did and got caught, NASCAR’s penalties were hardly inconspicuous. They grew into near death sentences.

Fines, probations, loss of points and even suspensions all became part of the legal process – and subsequently grew.

Fines of $25,000 grew to $50,000 and then $100,000. Point losses, for the drivers and owners, numbered in the hundreds. Probations didn’t last days or months, they remained in force for the remainder of a season. Offenders, mostly crew chiefs, were suspended for six weeks or more.

As a result of all this, among other things, it’s my thinking that what occurs in the garage area at each track is probably more sanitized now than it ever has been.

I just don’t think teams want to mess around with their cars knowing that they could receive punishments that, by golly, actually have a very, very negative impact. Why tempt fate?

But this is all about technology. It’s not about behavior and conduct – a couple of other things that fall under NASCAR scrutiny.

There was a time, not long ago, when NASCAR was just as harsh on its drivers as it was how teams treated the car.

Stiff penalties were handed down for swearing and antagonistic behavior (especially on TV), confrontations and even criticism of NASCAR.

As a result, drivers went into a shell. If by being themselves they incurred NASCAR’s wrath, well, the best thing to do was to be someone else.

All these “someone else” types turned out to be the same – mostly boring, colorless and devoid of singular personalities.

Fans didn’t like that. They were always told NASCAR’s history was littered with characters. Well, where did they go?

As you well know, NASCAR responded by telling us that racing was a contact sport. It told us that it wanted the drivers to settle issues among themselves. It told us it didn’t want to police behavior unless it absolutely had to do so.

Fair enough. And in my opinion, NASCAR is doing a darn good job of keeping its nose out of things. Yes, it meets with errant drivers behind closed doors but you don’t see it drag them away by their collars, and in irons, from the track.

Just an opinion here, but if indeed Ryan Newman took a poke at Juan Pablo Montoya in the NASCAR hauler during the Darlington meeting, there was a time when the sanctioning body would have punished Newman – even though the public didn’t see him do a thing.

Of course it did no such thing this time.

Which brings us to Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. You remember these guys – ol’ Heckle and Jeckel at Darlington?

Their post-race altercation did draw punishment from NASCAR. Both were fined $25,000 and placed on four-race probation.

It sounds like an almost meaningless judgment but it was done for one reason.

If the two had dealt solely with each other, even through physical contact, NASCAR would have done nothing.

Instead, Harvick left his car to take a shove at Busch, who was still sitting in his.

Busch took off, struck Harvick’s abandoned car, sent it across pit road and into the inside pit wall. The car missed several people and, most fortunately, did not pin anyone against the concrete.

But it could have easily done both. And therein lies the big difference.

When the actions of two drivers involve a danger to the safety and welfare of others, NASCAR has to abandon the “boys have at it” philosophy. It must act.

Given that Harvick left his car unattended to start the fray, I at first felt certain NASCAR would more severely punish him, and I thought it should.

But that would not have been fair. Both men played a role in the creation of the situation and warranted punishment.

As said the punishment is, at best, minor. But I think NASCAR did the right thing if for no other reason than it wants to convey to Busch and Harvick, and other drivers, just where it will draw the line when it comes to “boys, have at it.”

I’m not sure the next offenders, should there be any, will get off so easily.

Montoya Had Enough, So He Had At It

NASCAR’s Juan Montoya and Ryan Newman tangled twice at Richmond while Newman screamed foul. Every time a driver dumps somebody they apologize and say it wasn’t intentional. Montoya has had enough of it. His strikes back are intentional.

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