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Monday, July 29, 2013

First at the start, first at the finish; Ryan Newman wins at the Brickyard

Sweet victory! 

Ryan Newman wins at the Brickyard
Ryan Newman wins at the Brickyard
All members of the media flocked to interview Ryan Newman after his stellar performance Sunday that resulted in a win at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They had all but written Newman off for this season, fresh on the news that he was losing his ride at Stewart-Haas Racing next year. They barely even mentioned his name week after week. 

That fact has been bothersome to me, as someone who has watched Newman's career over the last ten years. I've written about it often in CHonTrack. While I will admit that--as Newman alluded to in his post-race statement, the moons have not always been aligned--a lackluster finish isn't always a question of driving prowess. I have never doubted his ability. Newman always gives it his all. He always gets the most out of his race car, but admittedly he doesn't always have a winning car nor does he have the greatest luck. The moons were certainly right on Sunday. 

Newman has a trifecta or sorts

Ryan Newman had a great week that began Wednesday with a really good finish at Eldora Speedway, the Ohio track owned by Tony Stewart, when Newman drove a truck there as NASCAR returned to racing's dirt track roots. Then on Friday, Newman set a new track record at Indianapolis Motor Speedway's 2.5-mile track in 47.992 seconds. That translated to 187.531 mph. He topped Jimmy Johnson's qualifying effort which was also record-breaking by .024 seconds, to put him in the pole position for Sunday's race. Then on Sunday he won the race in spectacular fashion.

Johnson didn't lose the race in the pits; Newman simply beat him

Television pundits couldn't help themselves. More than once, in the same breath that they reported Newman's victory, they attributed it to Jimmy Johnson's final pit stop, a few seconds longer than normal. They audaciously claimed it was just enough to allow Newman to win. 

That certainly isn't my perspective. Not only did Newman drive his heart out, but he bested Johnson's lap times often in those closing laps just as he did in qualifying. Best commentator--Dale Jarrett, who fairly reported on Ryan's run. Not so much for Rusty Wallace, Newman's former teammate who flat out doesn't like Newman. 

To be a Ryan Newman fan

There is no better feeling than watching those moons align. There was something about watching the race Sunday that was magical. It felt just right. Watching Ryan leading laps from the start, getting shuffled back during green-flag pit stops, only to return to the lead, was a thrill. If someone would ask me what else went on during the race, I wouldn't be able to answer. I was completely fixated to the television, as I listened to Ryan's radio, watched his travel times, monitored Twitter, and tuned into Race Buddy to watch Jimmy Johnson's camera feed. Through Johnson's windshield I could watch Ryan motor his Quicken Loans Chevy far ahead of the field. 

Watching those final laps were similar to those at Daytona in 2008 when Ryan won the Daytona 500. 

Ryan's father Greg was spotting for him, just like at Daytona. To hear the excitement in Greg's voice as he told his son, "You've got this," was so exhilarating. 

I've never met Ryan Newman, but as a fan who has followed his career for ten years, I almost feel as if I know him. There is a familiarity that is almost akin to a close friendship or family member. The feelings are similar; they just aren't reciprocated. The empathy is certainly the same. The tears flowed because someone I am fond of, was experiencing a great moment. So, for me, it was a great moment too.

Ryan Newman is a graceful winner. 

Once Ryan was directed to Victory Lane and he emerged from his car, he demonstrated his humility and character. Ryan is well-spoken, respectful, a smile that is so genuine. He has an exceptional sense of humor and knows how to express himself. When asked what those last laps were like, he likened the last ten to his daughter, Brooklyn's learning her numbers. He said counting down from 10 laps to go was so slow and he lost track of which lap he was on. 

It was wonderful to see Ryan, his wife Krissie, their two daughters, Brooklyn and Ashlyn, the reaction from Tony Stewart, congratulations from other drivers, the often elusive media as they followed his every move, the traditional kissing of the bricks. I can only imagine the family celebration that would follow.

Ryan didn't just win a race; he won a race at the Brickyard

Winning his first race of the year was of course memorable. But winning a race at the Brickyard, (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) was a dream come true for Newman. He is an Indiana native, growing up in South Bend, less than 200 miles from the famed race track. The Brickyard is his home track. He attended races there as a boy. It was also Greg's dream to see his son win at Indy. That has to be part of the joy for Newman, to do this for his dad. From all appearances, the Newmans are a close, loving family that sacrificed plenty for their son's racing career. 

More than that, Newman is awed by this race track and the drivers that have crossed that same finish line before him--some of his heroes and mentors. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the oldest race track in the country and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Ryan Newman wins in spectacular fashion as this year marked the 20th anniversary of NASCAR at Indy. The first race was held there in 1994, so Newman won the 20th running at the Brickyard to go with his 50th running of the Daytona 500. 

When Newman was asked in Victory Lane what it felt like to achieve his dream, he said it didn't sink in yet. I just hope he can revel in it as long as possible because in so many ways, I've always known that Ryan Newman is a winner!
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