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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ryan Newman may finally get noticed

I'm finally breathing again, as is all of #NewmanNation; which means it is safe to reflect on Ryan Newman's excellent performance at Talladega. 

Just after the Newman's fifth place finish and stellar performance, last weekend, NASCAR announced that Newman's car had failed its post race inspection. Apparently the height on both sides of his car, in the rear, was too low. Panic was short-lived however, as Tuesday morning NASCAR revealed that the height difference was due to damage from a crash Newman was involved in during the race, a seemingly uneventful crash by the way, that did little to slow his momentum on the track.

Newman went into the weekend in good shape; he emerged from it even better. He has still not won a race this year, but a win is certainly not out of his reach. Each week he finishes closer to the lead. He now stands third in points, as he advances to the next round of NASCAR's Chase for the Championship. 

Some of us are not surprised by this turn of events. Others never imagined that Newman would advance farther than Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhard, Jr., or Kasey Kahne. 

But consider that Newman is rarely talked about. I have often complained that Newman is the Rodney Dangerfield of NASCAR, that he gets no respect. And that has continued, although his performance this year can't be denied. 

While those that have not watched closely enough, this appears to be a brand new, Ryan Newman, one that is hungry for a win and even hungrier to win a championship. It is all that is left for him. He has already won the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Can a championship be far behind?

So many Newman naysayers counted him out, but he is proving them all wrong. I am delighted that people are finally getting to see the Ryan Newman I have always seen. I've always known that he is capable, skilled, strategic, smart, and likes to drive fast. 

But there is now a spotlight on him that is illuminating the Ryan Newman I have known since about 2004 when my son introduced me to NASCAR. I never got to see Ryan's amazing 2003 season where he logged eight wins and 11 poles. But, I certainly heard about it. Still, I was intrigued by him. I still am. I like his personality, his sense of humor, his love of family, and his affection for old barns, farm life, and animals of every kind. He isn't a pushover; he doesn't always say what people want to hear. He tells it like it is. He isn't afraid to express his opinion. Those are all qualities that have caused me to want to know more. So, I have read all there is to read about him. I've watched him race. I've read post race interviews. I listen to his radio traffic during races. I watch his race times and speed during the race. I try to understand how he races. 

Without that level of interest, there is little being said about Ryan. Announcers rarely talk about him. He isn't interviewed often. NASCAR isn't fond of some of the things Ryan has said, so they ignore him. Reporters, most of whom answer to NASCAR's big-whigs, go the other way when Ryan walks toward them. They either don't like what he says, or he jests over their heads. His sense of humor isn't for everyone. I happen to like it. 

NASCAR is keeping the "most popular driver" thing going, since all they ever talk about is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. That isn't the case with Ryan Newman. Just for fun, sit in front of your television set and count the number of times Earnhardt's name is mentioned and compare it to the number of times Newman's name is said. You will be amazed. Ryan Newman flies below the radar.

The truth of the matter is that Ryan isn't really doing anything any different than he ever did. The difference is his team. Now with Richard Childress Racing, Ryan joined a team that had already worked out the kinks before he got there. His driving style hasn't changed. His problem at Penske Racing was that Dodge wasn't supporting their product. Roger Penske was largely absent. When he went to Stewart/Haas Racing, everything was new. Equipment was new, personnel was new and there were always changes. 

He is finally with a team that is on the same page with him. The equipment is proven. The reputation is proven. And Luke Lambert, Newman's crew chief is also proving to be top notch. 

Since Talladega, Lambert has pulled ahead of three other crew chiefs in the contest for "problem solver of the year." He is in contention for the $100,000 MOOG Award sponsored by Federal-Mogul Motorparts, a division of Federal-Mogul Holdings Corporation.

Let's hope the good streak continues, on into Martinsville, this week, a track where Ryan can win as he did in 2012.