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Monday, October 10, 2011

Experiencing racing with Ryan Newman

KANSAS CITY, KS - JUNE 03:  Ryan Newman, drive...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeRooting for a particular driver adds a special dimension to race day. In my mind, it is the only way to really enjoy racing these days.

I’m not particularly enamored with racing at Kansas anyway, because frankly, they can get pretty boring, but especially with all of NASCAR’s technical intervention and ethanol-based fuel requirements that I feel have dulled the events.

Rarely is sheer speed the dominant factor in winning races these days. With NASCAR’s latest version of the race cars so closely competitive, racing has become much more strategic. Drivers are almost handicapped as teams have little competitive advantage over one another. Drivers are only one aspect of the overall team, which in addition to the crew, includes the engine, tire, and chassis manufacturers, and others behind the scenes.

But on race day, a slow pit stop can kill all chances for a good finish. Inadequate chassis adjustments can ruin the day. Or tires can be an issue. Sometimes the driver’s ability simply takes a back seat to all other aspects. New ethanol-based fuel also seems to handicap teams since fuel consumption has become a conundrum for crew chiefs. It has added an interesting new dimension to the race, but also has taken away the element of excitement of racing to the finish as cars run out of gas on the last lap. That didn’t happen at Kansas, but it certainly has in recent weeks.

As a Ryan Newman fan, I’ve seen all of these factors come into play. 

Boring or not, I would much prefer to see Newman lead all the laps and cruise to victory, rather watching him struggle with an ill-handling race car though that does make me feel more engaged in the event. I listen to his radio transmission; I feel his frustration. At Kansas, from what was said, it appears that just before the race, the team installed a different shock. It was obviously a bad idea since Newman mentioned that the car he practiced and the car he drove on race day seemed to be two different things. Since there wasn’t e large enough window of time to change the thing during a normal pit stop, they were stuck working with it. Any attempts to improve balance, grip, and speed seemed futile. Knowing that early in the race and knowing it isn’t going to change has to be really frustrating for any driver.

Thanks to Race Buddy, the technological wizardry that allows varied camera views to stream live action on the computer at Nascar.com, I was able to better follow along with what was happening with Newman’s race car. I love Race Buddy, which was first instituted on the TNT coverage, but ESPN picked it up for the Chase races. I was really thrilled when Newman had an in-car camera to follow his every move, but that was a fluke. It hasn’t happened again. It was a thrill to be able to feel as if I was a passenger in his race car. I compensate by watching anyone behind Newman’s car on the track, or on pit road, or on the backstretch, where the cameras are located. I enjoy watching how he handles the traffic, when he passes another car or if there is an incident in front of him. Without this function, and because race commentators rarely talk about his progress on the track, I can follow it myself and really understand how his race goes. Sadly, it hasn’t been going all that well during the last three races.

So with the help of Race Buddy, I didn’t watch the Kansas race, I watched Newman’s race. It became clear early on that winning the race was no longer the goal. Rather Newman could only strive for a decent finish. After a pit stop when he learned that he had to return to pit road because of a loose lug nut, it became clear that even a decent finish would be a challenge. The goal became simply finishing without losing too many points. Newman was two laps down toward the end of the race. There was little time to make up any positions on the track, which translates into points. The focus then became getting one of those laps back. Once he achieved that goal, it was then to be in the position to get the ‘lucky dog,’ the bonus for being the first car of the lap down cars. He did that, so when Jeff Gordon’s car blew up, that caution put Newman back onto the lead lap. That was a pinnacle moment. It is just too bad that it happened so close to the end of the race. Newman had no time to race for a better position in just three laps. All-in-all, his eighteenth place finish was excellent, given how far back he had been. Finishing 18th on the lead lap was his way of salvaging the day. It certainly could have been a lot worse. There is always next week at Charlotte, unfortunately, another mile –and-a-half track. Newman has no wins there, but four top 5’s and seven top 10’s.

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