INDIANAPOLIS – Ryan Newman joined an elite fraternity on Sunday, becoming only the seventh driver in NASCAR history to win two of stock car racing’s crown jewels: the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.
From this day forward, Newman will be part of a rather elite group that has Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, the late Dale Earnhardt, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick and Bill Elliott as its members.
Which leaves one with a very significant question to ponder: How can a guy who now owns two of the most prized trophies in the sport not be wanted by his current race team?
Sure, we all heard two weeks ago that Newman’s departure from Stewart-Haas Racing at season’s end was nothing personal, but rather the byproduct of the overused “it’s just business” excuse.
I understand Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing were between a rock and a hard place with Newman. Kevin Harvick will be joining the organization next season and is bringing a boatload of Budweiser’s millions with him. Danica Patrick, obviously, isn’t going anywhere with her GoDaddy bucks.
And Newman, who almost didn’t have a ride this season until a consortium of sponsors led by Quicken Loans stepped forward to subsidize his No. 39 Chevy, just didn’t attract enough sponsorship for 2014.
Ergo, business decision. Ergo, out of a ride. Ergo, no job.
But with Sunday’s huge win, Newman’s stock should rise appreciably. He’s now arguably the most coveted free agent available for next season – and will be even more so if he manages to make the Chase this year. With his win in the 400, Newman moved up three spots to 16th in the standings, but is still behind Martin Truex Jr. and team owner Tony Stewart for the two wild card spots to qualify for the Chase.
At the very least, Newman has to win one or maybe two more races in the six events remaining prior to the Chase.
In a way, Newman’s plight is kind of similar to that of Darian Grubb. Remember how Grubb was told prior to the 2011 Chase that he’d be out of a job at season’s end? And then what happened? Grubb and Stewart combined to win five of the 10 races in the Chase and ultimately the Sprint Cup championship.
Stewart got the trophy and million dollar check after the win that November afternoon in Homestead. Grubb, meanwhile, was looking for work the next day.
In another way, Newman’s plight can also be compared – admittedly, it’s a bit of a stretch – to Brad Keselowski winning the Sprint Cup championship last season. Few gave Keselowski any chance of finishing the season in the top-five, let alone taking home the biggest prize of all. Yet he did so (although his chances of defending that title this year aren’t looking all that great right now).
Why can’t Newman rise above like Grubb and Keselowski? I mean, it’s not like Sunday’s win was the second Cup triumph of his career. No, it was the 17th – and he’s good for a whole lot more still in his career.
As of now, based on speculation and rumors by fans and media alike, there are several potential drivers that could be available at the end of this season. In addition to Newman, other names have been bandied about in the rumor mill include Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton.
And, if the ebb and flow of rumors that have existed since he went to Furniture Row Racing last October swing back upward, Kurt Busch may once again reportedly be on Richard Childress’ radar for 2014.
So if you’re a Sprint Cup team owner who is looking to make some changes within your organization, why wouldn’t you want a guy like Newman? He would easily fit in to a number of teams, including Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, maybe Roush Fenway Racing, and potentially a return to Penske Racing if it were to expand to a three-team Cup operation.
Or what if some of the biggest companies in Indiana, say Indianapolis-based WellPoint (No. 45 on the Fortune 500) or Eli Lilly (No. 119), Columbus-based Cummins (No. 150), Fort Wayne-based Steel Dynamics (No. 323), Merrillville-based NiSource (No. 409) or Indy-based BrightPoint (No. 463), decided to spend big bucks to back a home-state boy from South Bend that has made good?
And if Newman were to bring along crew chief Matt Borland, with whom he was reunited with this season after a six-year separation, that would further increase Newman’s worth as a driver and the duo’s collective worth to an organization, much like the success Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have had together.
Newman and Borland have combined for 13 of Newman’s 17 Cup wins, not to mention 57 of Newman’s 90 career top-five finishes. And let’s not forget the incredible proficiency the two had when it came to qualifying: Of Newman’s 50 career Cup poles, 38 were with Borland atop the pit box.
Whenever the elder Busch brother’s name has been brought up since last year about the potential of moving to a team like RCR – even though he seems to have really found a home at Furniture Row Racing – one question almost invariably surfaces:
Who wouldn’t want a guy who’s a former Cup champion?
Well, who wouldn’t want a guy who’s both a Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 winner? Newman may not have a Cup championship like Busch, but then again, Kurt is still looking for his first win at both Daytona and Indianapolis.