Ryan Newman knew coming into this season that it could be his last with Stewart-Haas Racing as it leaked at the end of last year that Kevin Harvick would be moving to SHR for the 2014 season. SHR was a two-team operation with Tony Stewart and Newman, but this season expanded with a third team as it now fields a full-time Cup ride for Danica Patrick.
Patrick’s team has had no problem attracting sponsors as she is a unique commodity in the maledominated sport, and Stewart, being a three-time champion in the series, has very little problems keeping a name across the hood of his Chevrolet. Sponsorship for Newman has been a struggle the last two years as other than Quicken Loans that signed on for 18 races, the remaining races have been covered by several companies, including part-owner Gene Haas’s company.
Several weeks ago Stewart made it official that Harvick would be his third driver next season and that Newman would not be coming back. That immediately made him one of the best drivers available for next season, but the only problem is there is a shortage of premium rides for next season.
Newman took a giant step in securing a ride for next season on Sunday by capturing one of the biggest wins on the entire schedule when he visited the victory lane at Indianapolis. It was the 20th anniversary of NASCAR going to the Brickyard, and it couldn’t have been a better time for Newman to grab the checkered flag.
It also helped that Newman showed why he was nicknamed “The Rocket Man” in the series as he posted the 50th pole of his career at Indy, which put him on an exclusive list of only eight drivers in the history of the sport that had 50 or more poles in their careers. His 17th win of his career was also the fifth time that he had won the race after starting on the pole.
The win put Newman in a better position to make the Chase as he moved up three spots to 16th and is now in third place for the two wild card spots. His teammate Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. now hold the two spots as they are in 11th and 12th in the points and both have also posted a win.
Even though Newman is in 16th, his win moves him ahead of Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray, who are higher in points but have yet to post a win this season. Newman’s chances of making the Chase might just hinge on the way that Jeff Gordon finishes the next six races leading to the Chase.
Gordon sits in the 10th and final guaranteed spot in the Chase at this time, but hasn’t won a race this season. He holds a slim onepoint lead over Stewart and a fivepoint lead over Truex Jr. If either of these two drivers could move ahead of Gordon, Newman would move into one of their vacated wild card spots.
This scenario could change very quickly next weekend depending on who makes it to victory lane. Only six races remain before the Chase field is set and while making the Chase via the top 10 in points may not be an option for some of the teams outside of that elite list at this time, gaining entry by winning a race is still a viable option for several drivers inside that all-important 20th spot that is the cutoff for a wild card entry.
PIT NOTES: Ryan Newman came away with the trophy on Sunday, but Hendrick Motorsports also left Indianapolis as a big winner. HMS might not have had a driver make it to victory lane, but it did have one of its motors make it as Stewart-Haas Racing uses HMS engines. Newman’s teammate Tony Stewart finished fourth, but rounding out the top four were HMS drivers Jimmie Johnson in second and Kasey Kahne in third. They were joined by teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. in seventh and Jeff Gordon in eighth. That gave Hendrick Motorsports engines seven out of the top-eight spots, further showing the strength of that program that now has five drivers in the Chase field.
Event: GoBowling.com 400
Track: Pocono Raceway (2.5
mile tri-oval, Banking: Turn 1 14
Date: Aug. 4, 1 p.m.
Defending Champion: Jeff Gordon