Newman keeps motoring toward Chase goal
July 22, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
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Lost in a season brimming with news about multi-race winners, breakthrough stars and surprising struggles, Ryan Newman has methodically and rather quietly put himself in contention for a second consecutive Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason berth.
It's a far cry from the headline-making path to the Chase he experienced last year.
Newman was at the center of attention for several newsworthy reasons in 2013 and much of it wasn't his doing -- from good friend Tony Stewart not renewing his contract at Stewart-Haas Racing to NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France putting Newman in the Chase after a controversial outcome at Richmond International Raceway initially cost him a place in the postseason.
But there was a highlight in the middle of that strange summer run that was every bit Newman's work -- a hugely popular win from the Coors Light Pole position in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
After dramatically winning the pole for that race -- as the final car to make a qualifying lap no less -- the quick-witted Indiana native smiled and joked that he'd just "waited for a special moment" to provide his storybook moment.
Late the next afternoon, the crowd in the grandstands on either side of Indianapolis' famed front stretch was on its feet -- the cheers audible even over the roar of the cars' engines -- as Newman took the checkered flag.
It was a big moment in a place where that's saying a lot, and the significance was not lost on Stewart, who acknowledged afterward that his friend had endured a couple months of emotional "extremes."
Interestingly, throughout the period of uncertainty Newman faced last year, he remained upbeat and calm -- his well-known sense of humor serving him well, and the 2008 Daytona 500 winner's equally well-known ability behind the wheel serving him best of all.
It was something legendary team owner Richard Childress had long recognized in Newman, and now only a few months into their partnership, Newman is on pace to reward Childress' faith.
It's just been a lot more workmanlike than showman-like this season, and Newman is probably fine with that.
He is coming off two top-five finishes in the last three races in the Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS, with a season-best third coming last month at Kentucky.
Although he's led only 10 laps in 19 races, Newman is one of only three drivers ranked in the top 10 of the current Sprint Cup Series standings without a DNF.
He's ranked seventh in overall points, and when the standings are configured to reflect the current Chase field, Newman is 13th -- still safely inside the 16-driver cutoff. He's 25 points ahead of 14th-place Clint Bowyer and nearly 50 points ahead of the 16th-place driver, Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Kyle Larson.
If Newman were to defend his Brickyard title this weekend and score that all-important victory -- he would jump well inside the top 10 in the Chase rankings. Of the five drivers with one win this season, Newman has more points than all but championship leader Jeff Gordon.
And he has victories on three (Indy, Pocono and Michigan) of the remaining seven venues that will determine the 16-driver Chase field.
"I think those places can be special for us," Newman said. "Ultimately, we try and win at all the races, but this sport is so competitive and it's difficult to get to Victory Lane and even tougher to get there multiple times.
"This Caterpillar team just needs to stay focused and keep doing what we are doing. Kentucky was big for us to be able to get that ice-breaker of a top-five out of the way. You really can't expect to win a race by running 11th, 10th and seventh. But when you are in the top three, you are proving that you have a chance. I believe that's the direction this team is headed."