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Commentary

Rocketman Ryan Newman on Path of Revival

Round one of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs comes to a close this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval road course. While we’ve seen drivers such as Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. soar to new heights over the last two races, the argument can be made that the most shocking performance as of late has come from Ryan Newman.

Newman, who many people doubted from the start of the 2019 Playoffs, has essentially been the poster-boy for consistency this season. In fact, the No. 6 team have finished 15th or better in 18 races, including 11 top-10 finishes and two top-fives through 28 events.

As Newman and Roush Fenway Racing begin their first championship campaign since the 2017 season, it’s difficult not to attribute a good portion of Newman’s success to new crew chief, Scott Graves. After sitting atop the pit box of Daniel Suarez for two years at Joe Gibbs Racing, Graves reunited with team owner Jack Roush this season.

Graves previously worked for Roush as both a crew chief and race engineer from 2012-15. In that time, Graves propelled Chris Buescher to a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in 2015. Astonishingly, Graves then made the transition to Joe Gibbs Racing and won a second consecutive Xfinity title with Suarez.

While Graves has compiled quite the resume in NASCAR’s lower division, this on-track success hasn’t quite translated to the Cup Series  — until this year. In Graves’ stint with Joe Gibbs Racing, he was only able to guide the driver from Monterrery, Mexico to four top-fives and 21 top-10 finishes collectively. With the  41-year-old driver, Graves has recorded two top-fives and 11 top-10s.

What makes Newman different from drivers like Buescher and Suarez? Experience. This season marks Newman’s 20th go-around in NASCAR’s premier series and since his first race at Phoenix in 2000, the driver from Indiana has developed quite the reputation – tough as nails and unrelenting. If you ask anyone in the garage area who the toughest driver to pass on track is, it would most likely be a unanimous answer in Newman.

With a mix of veteran knowledge, grit and competitive edge, the pairing of Graves and Newman makes total sense and it’s no surprise the two are feeding off of each other’s successes. Newman matched his season-best finish this season last Saturday at Richmond International Raceway, taking home the fifth-spot.

While indeed trending in the right direction and sitting comfortably above the points cutoff by 26 points, Newman will have his work cut out for him moving forward.

In the inaugural race at the Roval last season, Newman drove himself to a respectable 11th place finish. This would be fine if the drivers currently sitting 13th through 15th in the standing did not have the results they had in the same race. Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch all placed inside of the top-five. However, all three drivers have been wildly inconsistent recently.

This can seem like a daunting task for the Rocketman, but it’s also worth nothing that Aric Almirola and William Byron (who sit 11th and 12th in the standings) placed 19th and 34th at the North Carolina road course last year. Although, all of these finishes should be taken with a grain of salt. The Cup Series has only seen one race at the Roval and there really is no way of predicting who will excel and who will falter. In other words, expect the unexpected — but if anyone can capitalize, it’s Newman.

Assuming Newman can take this 26 point lead to the round of 12, this is where things can get really tricky. Looking ahead to Talladega Superspeedway, Dover International Speedway and Kansas Speedway, the driver of the No. 6 may need to replicate a top-five for the second week in a row to provide momentum.

Of the three upcoming tracks, Newman’s best finish this season came at Talladega with a seventh-place finish. He finished 18th at Dover and 23rd at Kansas – his worst statistical track on the circuit. While his career numbers aren’t terrible at the trio of tracks (a combined 10 wins from 2000-19), his stat line over the last five races at these tracks is not stellar.

At Talladega, Newman has one top-five and three top-10 finishes over the last five races, with an m average finish of 13.6 (ninth-best among active drivers). Dover has been a decent  track for the 41-year-old driver, who’s driven his way to one top-five and one top-10 in the same five race span. As mentioned, Kansas is Newman’s worst statistical track and with no top-fives and no top-10s to speak of in the last five races; it is worth nothing that in 27 races, he’s got one win, three top-fives and seven top-10s.

It very well could be an uphill battle from here for Newman. But one thing is certain – he will fight tooth and nail for every position and this team will not go down without a fight. The Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 team is certainly on a hot streak and they’ll have to continue this stretch if they want to keep their championship hopes alive through the round of 12.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Newman Looks To Continue Overcoming Odds in Championship Quest

LAS VEGAS — A driver that missed the playoffs and would lose his ride, and land with a team that even with two drivers, finished 29th in the owner standings a year ago, is back in the playoffs in 2019.

This is the story of Ryan Newman and the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team.

A collective unit that many may have counted out before the season have proven themselves as legit contenders after they outraced Stewart-Haas’ Daniel Suarez and seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson to make the 16-car playoff field.

So, what does this all mean to the “Rocket Man”?

“Well, the ultimate goal for this year, no matter what anybody else thought was just to win a championship. So this is a big step for us to have an opportunity and to get back, for me personally, into the playoffs,” Newman told POPULAR SPEED. “To have that opportunity, because my ultimate, personal goal is to be a champion. You know, I feel satisfied because of that, but I don’t feel overwhelmingly satisfied because we haven’t won, we haven’t proved to be a dominant car, and we haven’t led a bunch of laps, so we have to do a better job and I accept that task and look forward to it.”

While it is a huge opportunity ahead of him and his team, Newman said it himself that he needs to better, knowing very well that a stat line of one top-five and nine top-10’s will likely not be enough for a championship.

So, that being said, what will Newman need to do in order to become more of a contender?

“Just be the best person that I can be on and off the racetrack. I mean, that’s all I can do,” Newman said. “It’s just a matter of our team, our organization, everybody doing as much as they can to help. And you know, that’s what we’ve been doing, but we’ve got to do a better job and we can just collectively work together better. All of us at Roush Fenway.”

Newman has proven to excel at the underdog role though, just look at 2014. 

There were five drivers with four or more wins, and only two of them made the Championship 4. Newman, who had no wins, was able to sneak his way in and nearly came away with one of the biggest surprises in NASCAR’s history, coming up just one spot short of the title.

In fact, at 41 years of age and having driven 18 full seasons, it is no secret that Newman is one of the most seasoned drivers in the playoff field but is this an advantage?

“No, because Jimmie Johnson was before the last race, and he’s no longer here,” Newman said. “So, I don’t think that experience necessarily parlays into becoming a champion. It should help, but it proved to not.”

Newman will start the playoffs in the 16th with no playoff points at his disposal.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Top 5 Throwback Paint Schemes Heading Into Darlington

Following Denny Hamlin‘s bittersweet triumph over Matt DiBenedetto in the exhilarating Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series action comes to a screeching halt and at the perfect time.

For drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer who sit just below the points cutoff for the playoffs, this is the final week without racing for the remainder of the season. With only two races remaining before the Playoffs, these athletes will need every bit of rest and strength as they are thrust into a twelve-week marathon.

According to NBC Sports, the 2019 Bristol night race saw a seven-percent increase from last season in viewership on NBCSN, making it the most successfully televised Saturday Cup Series race on cable in over two years. While the off-week may seem like a cooler for the sport, it can be seen as quite the opposite. When the action resumes for the Cup Series, NASCAR and race fans will be thrown right back into a weekend of intensity and tradition.

After a weekend of excitement and a week of anticipation, the Cup Series ratings should continue to improve as the premier series heads to South Carolina for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Considered one of the sports crowned jewels, the 1.366 mile speedway has always been a highly anticipated weekend. However, since 2015 this has become more than another race weekend; it’s become a celebration and tribute to NASCAR and the legends who paved the way for the sport’s future.

Throwback weekend at ‘The Lady in Black’ is an event where drivers and teams pay homage to drivers from NASCAR’s past. The most popular display of appreciation has come in the form of paint scheme replication. However, we’ve seen everything from hairstyles, fire suits and facial hair being  imitated to near-perfection during the three year span of this tradition.

Here are our Top-5 throwback paint schemes being driven for the Bojangles’ Southern 500:

Photo Courtesy of Darlington Raceway

Brad Keselowski

Ever since the throwback theme began in 2015, Brad Keselowski has consistently had one of the best dressed cars in the garage area for the Southern 500 and this year is no exception. The reigning champion of Darlington is set to run the No. 2 Miller Ford Mustang, a paint scheme made famous by Rusty Wallace who drove the car during his 1996 season.

The No. 2 Mustang features a black base with burnt-yellow numbers and the same color outlining the trim on the car. A subtle red and blue flame design drifts down the side of the car, giving it a very bold look. The design stays true to Wallace’s 1996 Thunderbird, while also staying current with the today’s times.

If the 2012 Cup Series Champion wants to best Wallace’s run with this paint scheme at Darlington, he won’t have to do too much. Wallace started 28th in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 and after getting involved in a wreck on Lap 47, he lost an engine on Lap 102, earning him a 38th place finish.

Keselowski has a great shot at replicating the magic made from last year’s Southern 500. The Michigan-native ranks sixth among active drivers with an average finish of eighth over the last two seasons.

Photo Courtesy of Roush Fenway Racing

Ryan Newman

When you hear mention of the No.6 car, it’s hard not to think of Mark Martin and all the great looking cars he’s driven in his 31-year long career. Ryan Newman will be piloting the same design as Martin’s 1993 Valvoline car. You may remember this paint scheme hitting the track back in 2015 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran it during the inaugural throwback event at Darlington.

Newman and his No. 6 team did a great job in resurrecting this paint scheme with a twist. Martin’s iconic Valvoline Ford Thunderbird featured vibrant reds, blues and whites which corresponded to the sponsor logo. Similarly, Newman’s Oscar Mayer Ford Mustang will feature the same design as Martin, but with Oscar Mayer’s colors of yellow, orange and red. This is a very simple, yet vibrant and clean looking paint scheme.

Martin started fourth in the 1993 Southern 500 and would eventually go on to lead 178 Laps en route to Jack Roush’s first Southern 500 win. With only 14 points keeping Newman safe from Playoff elimination, he is looking forward to a strong run at the 1.366 mile track.

“Darlington is my favorite track on the circuit and the Southern 500 is one of the best events on our schedule,” Newman said in an interview with NASCAR.com. “I can’t wait to come back here and see if we can put this No. 6 back in Victory Lane.”

Photo Courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing

Clint Bowyer

What year is it again? No, you’re not going crazy and that is not Tony Stewart‘s car pictured above. Three of Stewart-Haas Racing’s drivers will dawn the paint schemes of their boss throughout his illustrious career. The car that specifically caught our eye was Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang, which pays tribute to Stewart’s 2011 Championship winning Office Depot Paint scheme.

This infamous red and black paint scheme will be remembered for the time it was driven in 2011 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Stewart won the race and the Cup Series Championship against Carl Edwards in one of the greatest battles of all time. When Stewart ran the Office Depot car in the Showtime Southern 500 in 2011, he led six laps and ended up finishing seventh.

The driver of the No. 14 will need some his boss’ magic when running his paint scheme on Labor Day weekend. Darlington is statistically Bowyer’s worst track and he has only finished inside the Top-10 one time (back in 2007). The driver from Emporia, Kansas is only two points out of a Playoff spot with two races remaining, but he’ll need to muster up a better finish than the 22.77-place average he’s accumulated in the last 13 races at Darlington.

William Byron

William Byron and the No. 24 team are throwing it back to 1990 when Tom Cruise’s hit-racing movie Days of Thunder premiered. Cruise plays the character of Cole Trickle, a young hot-shot NASCAR driver who quickly makes a name for himself with aggressive racing styles and ease. Although it may not be the most accurate portrayal of NASCAR, the film has become a classic amongst the NASCAR community.

Cruise’s racing hit received love in the first running of the throwback weekend at Darlington when Kyle Larson drove the Mello Yellow sponsored car from the film. Kurt Busch actually ran the same car that Byron is running, but this was back in 2013 in the formerly known NASCAR Nationwide Series.

This vibrant neon yellow and lime green car is nearly impossible to miss on the track. The No. 24 will even stay true to the City Chevrolet sponsor featured on Trickle’s car in the film, as Rick Hendrick owns a dealership of the same name. This is one of the Top-5 throwback paint schemes obviously for the look, but also the irony of it all. Not to mention, the announcement video was pretty spot on.

Byron is a young hot-shot driver who is quickly making a name for himself. He may not have flash the heated tempers like Trickle did, but in his sophomore season, the 21-year old driver is poised to be one of NASCAR’s brightest stars. Byron is 73 points in the good for the Playoff, so unless he wrecks out of both upcoming races and drivers of the bubble do well, a Playoff berth seems likely for the young Hendrick Motorsports driver.

Photo Courtesy of Go FAS Racing

Corey LaJoie

Rounding out our Top-5 throwback paint schemes is Corey LaJoie and his tribute to 1999 Cup Series Champion, Dale Jarrett. This is a bit of an odd one because the paint scheme being honored is Jarrett’s Nestle Crunch car, which was run in the then-called Busch Grand National Series.

This is such a special paint scheme and you know that because it gained so much love and attention even being driven in one of NASCAR’s lower divisions. LaJoie’s car stays true, perfectly to the 1999 Champion’s paint scheme as if you did a quick glance you would think the sponsor on the car is Crunch and not Keen Parts!

Jarrett not only drove this car to victory lane once, but twice! He is also hailed as one of the sport’s best drivers at Darlington Raceway, being ranked 10th overall with three wins, 11 Top-5’s, 13 Top-10’s, three poles in 36 races.

“The car looks great and I’ve always been a fan of Dale, so to carry this scheme around Darlington is awesome,” LaJoie said to NASCAR.com. “I think we did a great job keeping the scheme as close to the original as possible while incorporating the KeenParts.com logos into it. I can’t thank Tom and TJ Keen enough for allowing us to run this design – it’s one of my favorite schemes. I might even have to shave myself a mustache, so I don’t do the car a disservice.”

Tune into the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 1 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time to see the sport’s best athletes paying homage to legends who’ve come before them.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Newman Eyeing First Top-10 of the Season

Four races into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, and Ryan Newman is still searching for his first top-10 finish of 2019.

This is Newman’s first year driving the No. 6 machine for Roush Fenway Racing but his performance hasn’t been the worst. The Indiana native is averaging a 15.8 finish and is currently 17th in the overall standings. The performances have shown him race in the top-10, but just hasn’t been able to hold on to the spot.

The team is looking for improvements as the weeks go by, with his 12th-place finish at ISM Raceway leaving him satisfied with the steps Roush Fenway Racing is taking with their program.

“We definitely showed improvement from last week, which is a good sign for the weeks to come,” Newman said. “Our No. 6 Oscar Mayer team worked hard after practice yesterday to make some changes, which showed once we took the green. Although we wanted a top-10, we’ll take the result, improve and move on to Fontana next week looking to capitalize on the momentum.”

Heading into Auto Club Speedway, Newman looks for his first top-10 finish at the wide two-mile track since 2015 where he placed fifth.

In looking to improve results, Newman could help his chances by starting better as he has yet to reach the final round of qualifying this season. The session could be interesting at Fontana with the rule package in place. Will everyone wait till the last few minutes to go out on the track, or will drivers make a lap at the beginning? The draft could play a big role in qualifying and that’s something that Newman can try to take advantage of.

Performing well this week could be a great morale boost as the No. 6 team will be debuting with Performance Plus as the primary sponsor for the first time this season. Fontana also marks the close of the West Coast swing so drivers like Newman’s are looking forward to head back east.

“We’re excited to get to Fontana to close out the West Coast swing on a high note,” he said. “Auto Club is a rough track that carries a ton of speed and we’re anxious to see how the new package will apply to it. We definitely showed improvements last week at Phoenix and had a solid run going, so our goal is to maintain that momentum this weekend in Fontana.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Newman Hopeful Improvements Leads to Playoff Berth

With six races remaining until the start of the playoffs the thrill and adrenaline is starting to pick up for the last few spots of the postseason.

For some fans, it is quite a surprise that the former Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman is having a mediocre year.

Going into this season, Newman had higher expectations after debuting the new Camaro ZL1 at Daytona in February.

In fact, his teammate Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 bringing a boost of momentum to Richard Childress Racing after claiming victory in the new car.

But their expectations haven’t been proven as Newman has only scored four top-10’s this year entering the Foxwoods Casino Resort 301. 

After finishing outside the top-10 in the first two stages, Newman was able to overcome some struggles and place in the sixth position at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“Just proud of everybody. Not the end result that we want, but a huge improvement and that is something we want” Newman said.

The 40-year-old from South Bend, Indiana had not had a top-10 finish at New Hampshire since the summer race of 2016.

Last season, it seemed like the No. 31 team was bound to have a promising year after winning the fourth race on the schedule at the ISM Raceway. Despite the victory, Newman went on to finish the season last in the playoff standings which has appeared to transfer over to this year.

His sixth-place finish at New Hampshire was his best result of the season.

Newman and the No. 31 team definitely still have a lot of work to do to make the playoff push, but his performance on Sunday was a stepping stone.

“Yeah, it was a good rebound from yesterday,” Newman said. “The entire weekend they definitely stepped it up. It was a good run for our Chevy Accessories Chevy Camaro. The guys did a good job in the pits today, that was nice to see, we have been struggling a little bit there. Just proud of everybody.”

As Newman looks to join his teammate in the playoffs, with six races left until the start of the postseason, Newman sits 19th in the standings, 74 points behind the cutoff.

Like every other team in the Monster Energy Cup Series garage, their ultimate goal is to win races and compete for a championship.

“We will keep digging.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

ASHLEY ASKS…… Krissie Newman

Founded in 2012 by Krissie and Ryan Newman, the Rescue Ranch has become known for their work in educating about the well-fare and respect of animals, and promoting wildlife conservation. It has grown in many ways through the years, including the addition of a 10,000 square foot playground in May 2017.

POPULAR SPEED recently caught up with Krissie to talk to her about the ranch, as well as her relationship with Ryan.

POPULAR SPEED: Why is it important to you to educate people about animals?

KRISSIE NEWMAN: Well, I think kids grow up with a different mentality if they have compassion for anything. So I feel like starting with the kids is going to change the mentality over time of how people treat animals, and look at animals, and honestly respect the earth and the environment and get outside to enjoy things a little more. I think starting with the kids is easier than starting with adults. 

PS: Out of all the animals that you’ve interacted with, what has been your favorite?

Jerry Markland | Getty Images North America

KN: I don’t know if I really have a favorite. I have different animals that I like for different reasons. I mean, at home, we have dogs. They lay around on the couches with us, go places with us, and are comforting. At our one office, we have cats, and they interact with the staff – and they adore people more than anything. It is a little bit of a stress relief when they come in if they’re having a crazy day. I can’t say I really have an absolute favorite. I like them all for different reasons.

PS: Looking back at your times at the ranch, is there a favorite memory that stands out?

KN: I think when we opened the playground. We did a 10,000 square foot all-inclusive playground, and I think the first field trip that we had with kids with disabilities, it really touched me to see them playing on the equipment and being able to enjoy the playground, and hearing the parent’s reactions about that was such a good moment for those kids. The ranch has taken a turn from solely being all about animals, to just being respectful people, and it’s a place for everyone. It’s a place for a kid that has a handicap, or kids with autism, or kids that are completely fine on field trips and birthday parties. I want everybody to feel included.

Animals are therapeutic that in a way, we started something that we were not even knowing we were creating in having a place for everyone to have those connections with the animals and feel good about being there, and to really enjoy those things. I think the playground, for me, was a defining moment in seeing all of that come together.    

BARRY CANTRELL | NKP

PS: Switching things up, how did you and Ryan meet originally?

KN: If he told you, it’d be a truck stop. But we were set-up on a blind date through friends of my family and his family, and my grandmother.

PS: Now, do you get nervous during races?

KN: I used to. I still get a little nervous during the superspeedways – Talladega (Superspeedway) and Daytona (International Speedway) always kind of leave me with a little grumble in my stomach on those mornings, but I don’t get as nervous as I used to. It’s just I want to see him do well so then he’s in a good mood and the rest of the week is smoother, but I don’t really get nervous anymore.

PS: What’s something that you can say about Ryan that people would be surprised to know?

KN: Probably how down to earth and caring he is. I think a lot of people see his serious side, but he really does have a big heart and he’s a big softy.

Learn more about the Rescue Ranch by visiting their website at http://www.rescueranch.com/

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Newman Lacking Confidence in NASCAR’s Technical Inspection System

When NASCAR unveiled the Laser Inspection System (LIS), it caught people’s attention in how the cars would be teched before events, with the grey area of the rulebook becoming that much thinner. However, there were some noticeable problems.

The sanctioning body has gone back to the drawing board and will debut the next version – the Hawkeye System. Set to be better in places where the other failed, it should close the door on what’s allowed and not even more, while not enduring the same previous issues.

Some of the drivers have expressed belief in the system, with the Ford drivers stating it should keep others, namely Toyota, closer to the tolerances than previously.

The same faith, though, is not shared by everybody.

“When the Hawkeye system goes down, what’s the backup plan?” Ryan Newman questioned on Media Day. “We don’t have enough people anymore, so what are we going to do, just sit in the garage and wait until we get the Hawkeye system back up and running? When we have a power outage, and things got to get rebooted or when something gets wet, what are we going to do?  How’s that part going to work?  Technology has made us dependent upon a lot of things technology‑wise, and when those things fail, a lot of us just scratch our head.” 

Technical inspection became the source of everyone’s attention because you want to make sure each competitor is within the rules for the fairest competition possible. However, it also became a story each week during qualifying, with drivers unable to make it out in time due to failing multiple times.

“When your 10, 15, 20 cars don’t make it out to qualify, it’s a black eye on our sport no matter how you look at it. When it happens two or three or four out of five weeks, that’s horrible, and they let it happen,” Newman said.

It’s easy to see that a change was necessary, as there were notable flaws with the LIS. Several teams noted if the weather changed, the LIS numbers would change.

“Everybody knew that, including NASCAR, but they couldn’t predict it, and they couldn’t create a source of error for it that was acceptable,” Newman said. “You could have a car that would pass one time, not change anything, roll around and it wouldn’t pass by a bigger margin than it ever should have.  There was a lot of frustrations with the LIS, and there was a crew chief that got fired because of the LIS that I know of, because he was frustrated with the fact that it was not repetitive.”

Despite his frustrations, Newman did not want to address his concerns with NASCAR, saying “that costs you money.”

“I’m just saying, you’ve got to be realistic about it,” he continued. “I know what the intentions are, but in the end, nobody at this point knows how well it’s going to be.  It’s costing our teams $350,000 to set up a Hawkeye system at our shop to be able to go to the racetrack and have our cars pass so that we can practice and race.”

With the sanctioning body putting in some effort, maybe praise for at least trying something should be included. However, with the competition as close as it is, and multi-millions tied up every which way, leaving areas for questions should not be tolerated.

One can only hope that the Hawkeye System lives up to expectations all year long.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

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Commentary

Stage Points Will Heighten Intensity of Elimination Races

The first round of eliminations in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs will showcase another element of stage racing in Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway.

Many must win-scenarios have played out in the post-season over the last three years. Kevin Harvick notably won at Phoenix in 2014 to make the Championship 4 before capturing the title.

Winning will still be the simplest way for a team to climb out of an elimination spot and advance to the Round of 12. However, stage racing is again changing the game.

A maximum of 20 points will be up for grabs in the first two stages at Dover, which will be valuable with a 21 point gap separating 12th from 16th on the Playoff Grid.

Kasey Kahne currently sits 16th and has consistently finished poorly over the last month. While this level of performance doesn’t seem to indicate an impending turnaround, strategizing to collect stage points could open the door late in the race.

Kurt Busch entered the post-season with momentum after three consecutive top-five finishes, but he has struggled ever since.

The No. 41 team is 17 points below the cutoff line and will need to rely on stage points to put themselves in position to advance by the end of the race.

A year ago, those higher than the Stewart-Haas Racing driver in the standings would have needed to face issues to give Busch a chance to advance. Now stage points are making it more realistic to mount a comeback.

Knowing where the competition is running will be critical for 12th through 14th place Ricky Stenhoue Jr., Austin Dillon, and Ryan Newman. Any point gained could make the difference between staying in contention and being eliminated, meaning they will need to race much more aggressively this weekend.

Even Jamie McMurray in 11th with a nine-point gap won’t be safe without a strong day as that advantage could be erased by the end of Stage 1.

NASCAR emphasized that every point would matter more in 2017 and it’s getting ready to play out in the first elimination race.

While previous cutoff races have featured tight points battles and must-win scenarios, stage points are now shaping up to create even more drama.

After two tame events to open the Playoffs, the “Monster Mile” could be an entirely different animal and make for an intense 400 laps for all teams on the bubble.

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EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Newman On The Rise

There hasn’t been much talk about Ryan Newman since his upset win at Phoenix earlier this Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

Many have already written off the veteran driver and the entire No. 31 team before the beginning of the playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway. They haven’t led laps or showed the speed that others have. However, it may not be time to sleep on Newman yet. In fact, you might want to start taking him and his team more seriously heading into the final ten races.

Frankly, what the Indiana native has accomplished the last few weeks has been rather impressive. Despite qualifying outside the top-10, he has managed to finish seventh or better in the last four races. In addition to that, during Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, Newman ended the night third after restarting eighth with two laps to go.

This is something that Newman has proven to proficient at in previous years getting the most his equipment and staying in the hunt. In fact, a similar stretch to the one he’s on now nearly won him a championship in 2014. He finished runner-up in the standings that year, so what would stop him from possibly doing the same thing in 2017? Nothing if we’re honest.

While playoffs are intended to reward wins more than anything, consistency is still a critical part of success. If Newman can continue to string together top-10’s, then it’s foolish not to take him seriously. Although some may point to the fact they aren’t at the same competition level as drivers like Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Larson as a reason why they won’t win the title. However, the fact they’ve been able to hang with the best despite not having the outright speed says a lot. If they can see some improvement, they could be contending forwins.

Now, Newman does have some issues he needs to address. The team is going to be at a disadvantage having only five playoff points to start with. Failing to run up front throughout the entire duration of an event due to failing to qualifying well has proven to be the biggest downside to their current run as they don’t accumulate a lot of stage points. These are two things that should be emphasized by Richard Childress Racing heading into Chicago and need to be fixed going forward if they want to survive eliminations.

Problems aside, keep your eye on this team because, despite the lack of attention they are receiving, it should not surprise anyone if the Rocket Man manages to sneak his way into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kahne May Not Be Last to Shake Up Playoff Picture

An unpredictable year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series experienced another unexpected moment in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Kasey Kahne captured his first victory in nearly three years, adding another twist to the playoff picture in a season filled with surprise winners.

Now with the Hendrick Motorsports driver in the top-16 six races before Chicagoland, the question shifts to who will be next to win and lock themselves in.

Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott, and Matt Kenseth are currently in positions to make the post-season based on points, and a victory in the coming weeks wouldn’t change much other than solidifying their title bids.

Clint Bowyer has now fallen below the cutline, joining Joey Logano. A win from either would knock another competitor out and further narrow the possibility for drivers to make the playoffs based on points

However, the ones to watch are those with no other choice but to gamble and hope luck falls their way like it has for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, and now Kahne in 2017.

Before the chaos at the finish, Trevor Bayne was in a position to be the next surprise winner after stretching fuel mileage and hoping for a green flag run to the checkered.

While it didn’t materialize, it’s that type of strategy that those outside the playoffs need to utilize to have any chance at making the post-season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in the same situation and has mentioned many times that it does his team no good to aim for a 10th-place finish when they are in a must-win situation.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to see another driver make the playoffs under similar circumstances as the series heads to Pocono and Watkins Glen.

Strategy often prevails at Pocono, and it’s a place where Earnhardt Jr. has recently visited Victory Lane after sweeping the events in 2014.

Road courses breed unpredictability and road racing ace A.J. Allmendinger hasn’t been much of a factor this season, but that could change in a heartbeat.

Everything fell into place for Kahne to join the list of surprise winners this year at Indianapolis. It not only has thrown another curveball at the post-season but further attests to the adage of 2017 being expected the unexpected.

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EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.