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Ryan’s Race to the Chase: More ground gained

August 05, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com

Newman notches second consecutive top-five finish

Related: Updated standings | Pocono results | Complete coverage

Ryan Newman answered his Indianapolis victory last week with a fourth-place effort in the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway on Sunday, giving Newman his first back-to-back top-five showings of the season and furthering his case for a Wild Card berth in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup and, just as importantly, a good ride in 2014.

Newman has mounted an impressive summertime charge and with five races remaining in the Race for the Chase, he is a legitimate player in the Wild Card mix. Newman, who found out three weeks ago he won’t return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, has insisted nothing has changed in his commitment or motivation levels. And his on-track performance backs that up.

Newman moved up another position in the Sprint Cup Series standings Sunday to 15th by virtue of his fourth top-five on the season.

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WILD CARD STANDINGS

Pos Driver Wins Pts Pos Pts from 10th
1. Tony Stewart     1 11th      -5
2. Martin Truex Jr.
    1 14th      -15
3. Ryan Newman     1 15th      -24
4. Brad Keselowski     0 12th      -7
5. Kurt Busch     0 13th      -11
6. Jamie McMurray     0 16th      -33
7. Joey Logano
    0 17th      -38
8. Aric Almirola
    0 18th      -45
9. Paul Menard     0 19th      -67
10. Jeff Burton     0 20th      -92
11. David Ragan     1 28th      -223

He, team owner Tony Stewart (11th) and Martin Truex Jr. (14th) are the only drivers ranked between 10th and 20th with a win, and Newman trails Truex by only nine points in a competitive battle for the two Wild Card slots. Newman is 24 points behind 10th-place Greg Biffle, who currently holds the final guaranteed Chase position.

The famed Watkins Glen, N.Y., road course is next up with Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen (ESPN, 1 p.m. ET) and road courses have proven to be a challenge for Newman. While he has 13 top-10 qualifying efforts on 23 combined starts on the Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen circuits, he has only eight total top-10 finishes.

He’s looking for his first top-10 finish at Watkins Glen since 2006 (eighth). His best finish was runner-up in his rookie year (2002). He’s only led 20 total laps in 11 previous starts there.

With five races left to set the Chase field, here’s what Newman has to say about his recent success, mindset and Chase chances:

On the immediate payoffs of the Indy win:

“The win helps, but it’s not a light switch. It doesn’t turn everything on bright.  It helps and gives you a vision, but there is more to it than that. … The $20 million sponsor just doesn’t jump right after you. I wish it did, but it doesn’t.”

On the morale boost of the past two weeks:

“It gives us more hope. I mean we had hope in the first place and I’ve said it every time I’ve talked to you guys. We still have a chance of making the Chase whether it’s mathematically or winning. And a win answered the mathematically and winning.

“Another win would be amazing just based on the history of what I’ve seen with the Wild Cards. Two is pretty much going to lock you into a Wild Card spot. And we still have a shot. There’s still a lot of racing to go.

“It hasn’t changed my mentality other than the fact that it changed I guess your hope. It doesn’t change my drive. My drive is to go out and do the exact same thing regardless.”

On Sunday’s top-five:

“It’s a good run not as good as it could have been. We struggled in the pits today, but overall a good effort. Racing a lot of the guys around us it’s where it’s important to get the victory.

“Jeff (Gordon) was really close there and he’s fighting for his Wild Card spot.  We have a win and we are fighting for a top 10 Wild Card spot, but nonetheless it was a good effort.  Just a horrible day in the pits for us.  We have to get that figured out.”

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