Ryan ‘Rocket Man’ Newman may not have a ride for next year but he certainly took advantage of what he does have right now with a strong performance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Starting on the pole, the Rocket was competitive all day, holding off race favorite Jimmie Johnson while winning in his own home state for the first time ever in the 35 year old veterans career.
Newman started on the pole, the 50th of his 14-year Cup career – which ranks him ninth on the all-time list. As good as Newman is with snagging poles, he hasn’t had the knack for necessarily turning them into victories. The Rocket’s Brickyard 400 triumph was only his fifth from the pole. And it wasn’t easy.
The front row featured #39 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet of Newman and Johnson’s #48 Hendrick Chevrolet. Essentially, those two were the most dominant cars during the race with Johnson leading 71 laps while Newman led for 45 circuits. The two frequently mirrored each other with Newman leading at the beginning and end of the event while Johnson controlled the race through the middle half.
A bold move near the latter stages of the race by crew chief Matt Borland, allowed Newman to get track position when he took two tires while several of the leaders including Johnson took four. The strategy wasn’t foolproof and in fact, it appeared for a time that Johnson would catch Newman at the end. However, the speeds of the two leaders leveled off over the final 10 laps or so and Newman was able to grab his first win of the year, which was important for at least couple reasons.
That victory was important first and foremost because it moves Newman closer to a possible Wildcard. His teammate and owner Tony Stewart, along with Martin Truex Jr., also have a victory and sit 11th and 12th respectively. Newman is just 20 points back of Truex and 24 markers behind Stewart. With six races left in the regular season, there’s plenty of time to catch either or both of them and make the Chase as a Wildcard. Newman also still has tracks at those upcoming six events where he could grab the checkers to earn the Wildcard.
Newman has showed an affinity for Top 10s this year and that could help him in his effort to earn a spot in the playoffs. As good as the Rocket has been at snatching poles, Indy was his first of the season after having been shut out last year – 2012 was Newman’s only season without a pole.
As was mentioned at the top, Newman is looking for a new ride as he’s out at Stewart-Haas come 2013. He’s been rumored for a possible shot at RCR where Keven Harvick is leaving to take Newman’s seat. There’s also talk about the Rocket Man returning to Penske Racing and bringing sponsor Quicken Loans from Stewart-Haas with him. His crew chief Borland may also be involved as a packaged deal. And yet another rumor has Ryan going to Roush Fenway; but, the buzz is mostly supposition and hearsay at this point. Certainly this victory at Indy looks good on the resume and will make negotiating easier.
His success with this pole and win could be a sign of things to come. Other than a crash at Loudon where he usually does very well, Newman has six Top 20s over the past seven races. Pocono is next on the schedule and a place where the Rocket ran a solid fifth, leading 19 laps just this past June at the ‘Tricky Triangle’, which bodes well for his chances.
The rousing and emotional Brickyard win was a poignant moment for Newman as well as for many fans of Ryan’s and stock car racing. The Rocket now moves closer to a possible wildcard but will Newman win another race or move himself up far enough to earn a spot in the Chase? The Rocket Man’s performance at Indy was very solid and he’s capable of winning at any track. Six races remain … can the Rocket Man make the Chase?
What do you think?
Additional sources Racing Reference, NASCAR
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