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Friday, June 29, 2012

Ryan Newman belongs in the #39 car

It makes me queasy to think of any scenario that would prevent Ryan Newman from driving the #39 car in 2013. So much has been written about how Newman's future at Stewart-Haas Racing is reliant upon the ability to acquire sponsorship.

Sponsorship is a tough issue normally, but perhaps even moreso when Newman's results have been less than stellar of late and certainly not up to his potential.

Newman's average finish in 2012 so far has been 15.9, well below his average start of 9.8. He has led only 12 laps; all of them at Martinsville in April, the only race he won this year. Winning that race has been enough so far though, to keep in chase contention. Thirteen in points, Newman holds a second and final wildcard spot, right behind Kyle Busch who is in twelfth. Every week, that position becomes more precarious.

Out of 16 races so far, Newman has 1 win, two top-5's and three top-10 finishes. He has yet to sit on the pole.

Since Newman's victory at Martinsville his subsequent race results have been poor. At Texas, he finished 21st. At Kansas he crossed the checkers in 20th. While he rallied at Richmond to finish 15th, an engine failure at Talladega put him back in 36th place. At Darlington, he came in 23rd. He seems to have rallied since then, with four top 15 finishes--results he really fought for. He earned a 12th place finish at Pocono. Unfortunately, his car limped over the finish line at Sonoma in 18th place.

Since I'm a big Newman fan, I haven't felt much like highlighting these races by writing about them. I'd prefer to forget about them. I'm concerned however, about what has caused this lackluster action. Twice in two of the last several races Newman pitted under green thinking a tire was going down only to be told that the tires were fine. In the years I have watched Newman race, I have never known him to make that kind of error.

Newman's dissatisfaction in the handling of his race car have been evident in radio transmissions. On the up side though, he is getting the speed out of the car. That wasn't always the case.

Adjustments to the race car often times make its handling worse. And it seems that every pit stop causes Newman to lose positions he just made up on the track. I hope there is not some kind of disconnect within the team.

Perhaps the problem with the #39 team is related to sponsorship pressures. That is entirely possible since some members of congress are considering banning sports sponsorships as a means of cost-cutting in the federal budget. Such a move would obviously affect the #39 U.S. Army car. Having the U.S. Army logo on the front of the #39 car is not just about a sponsor's money; it is also about pride, spirit, and heart. Newman's face lights up when he talks about meeting the soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital or some of the bases he visits. Losing the U.S. Army would be a major blow to the team. In fact, it could cripple it.

Newman is also about to become a father again very soon. While such a blessed event brings untold joy, it is a life-changing event for a family. I'm sure Newman is concerned about his wife Krissie, how will Brooklyn adapt to having a baby sister, and all the logistics involved with welcoming a new human being into your life.

So when I hear the media speak cavalierly about Newman being a free agent, it bothers me. I am concerned about his future. I read one report that indicated perhaps Ryan would stay at Stewart-Haas Racing next year by taking a cut in pay. I have no idea if that was real or not. I think SHR is a good fit for Newman. I like how he and Tony Stewart work well together. I like that they are friends.

I'm just hoping all this works out in the near future and that good luck turnaround comes soon--perhaps this weekend at Kentucky. As always, I wish my favorite driver a great finish.