User-agent: * Allow: / CH on Track: November 2014


Monday, November 17, 2014

Hello Newman, 97 days til Daytona

It's over! 

There are so many things to take away from the final race of the 2014 #NASCAR season at Homestead.

Congratulations to Kevin Harvick for capping off a great season and for exonerating NASCAR, freeing them from having to explain how a winless driver could take the title. Then again, Ryan Newman, who finished second wouldn't have been winless if he had just had another .5 seconds. 

Ryan Newman didn't win the race or the championship, but he certainly did the next best thing. In fact, he couldn't have done any more or any better. There were likely many who were surprised by Newman's performance. I wasn't one of them. I've watched him race the same way during the entire season. I have been a Ryan Newman fan since 2004 and have rarely, if ever, seen him not give it his all. 

As some have pointed out in media reports, Newman had a 10th place car that he drove to a 2nd place finish. That is just what Newman does. Thing is, he has never been on the media radar before. Television viewers have rarely ever hear Newman's name. 

It was said yesterday, and I've written it previously in CHonTrack that Ryan Newman is NASCAR's Rodney Dangerfield. Ryan Newman is not a typical NASCAR driver. His remarks are not always predictable, never scripted, and certainly not controlled. Newman is a free spirit and isn't afraid to speak his mind. He is also quick-witted with a dry sense of humor, which isn't always easily understood. Personally, I find those traits endearing, but I can see where NASCAR would have a problem, especially since NASCAR is so fond of controlling every aspect of their sport. 

Ryan Newman simply won't be controlled. NASCAR is fortunate however, because Newman loves what he does and causing it harm is likely the furthest thing from his mind. He just won't be manipulated.

Once the viewing public gets to know Newman, they will respect and admire him. They got a little glimpse of who he is in the final race because he had a spotlight shone on him. His situation of earning enough points to be a championship contender while not winning a race all year put him in such a unique position. It almost didn't happen. To earn the final point he needed to advance to the final round of the Chase for the Championship, Newman drifted up the race track on the last lap to move Kyle Larson out of the way. Passing one more car was all he needed to advance. 

Jeff Gordon fans were off the wall about how Newman cheated Gordon out of his rightful place in the final round, despite the fact that Newman did nothing out of the ordinary and certainly nothing other drivers hadn't done. 

So had that incident with Kyle Larson not opened up the can of drama that it did, Newman likely would have continued to fly just under the radar. No one would have ever gotten to see what his fans have always known--that Newman never gives up, gets the most out of his race car every single race, earns every point he gets, and was certainly entitled to contend for the championship. 

His grace under fire is always evident too, as seen in this NASCAR video

During post-race interviews, the disappointment and fatigue clearly showing on his face, Newman still managed to smile and acknowledged the bright side of the entire season. Make no mistake; Newman wanted to win the race and the title, but he didn't cry about coming in second. 

In one interview, Newman even joked about his loss being Jeff Gordon's fault, because had Gordon won at Phoenix, Harvick wouldn't be in the chase and he would have finished first of the four that were. That was Newman's way of poking fun at all the negative comments that were leveled against him by Jeff Gordon fans after the Phoenix race.

NASCAR came out a winner too

It appears NASCAR got it right when they changed the Chase format. There seemed to be more interest in the final races of the season. There was certainly more excitement and certainly more drama. That translates into interest which will hopefully will fill the increasingly empty seats.

As it turned out, winning was the necessary component needed to earn the coveted Spring Cup Championship trophy. There was ultimately no need to backpedal, make excuses, or apologize. Had Harvick not prevailed, Newman would have ended his winless streak, thus making the entire point moot. 

So, 97 days til Daytona!

Friday, November 14, 2014

My NASCAR history penned by my own husband; Go Ryan Newman

I've been a Ryan Newman fan for so long that I thought I'd look back at some of the stories I was able to get into print when I worked for a local newspaper in the small Illinois town where I lived.

I tried to get my boss to let me cover NASCAR on a regular basis but my wrestler-friendly, stick-and-ball aficionado owner hated the idea. Every now and then though, I did sneak in a story or two. Here's one from 2007, but I didn't write it. My husband did, as he wrote about my new-found obsession.

This was as close as I've ever been to a race car. It was the thrill of my life when
I heard the Alltel Dodge would be in my own home town for the opening of the new Alltel store. 

The Fast Lane, Realities of a NASCAR husband

by John Henrichs

I’ll be the first to admit that I love auto racing, but my love of the sport is now rivaled by that of my wife.

Growing up in the 50’s, there was no other subject that my friends and I would discuss more than cars, and how fast they could go.

On some occasions, my dad took me to a race at the now-defunct Raceway Park in Blue Island. The sights, sounds, and smells will live with me forever. A pack of cars racing around a quarter-mile asphalt track at 60 mph was a spectacle that I can still recall with near perfect detail. My personal favorite was James Bond driving the 007 Studebaker Hawk. I wanted to be just like him someday.

My wife, Carol was always a bit tepid about car racing. But a few years ago, after our son Chris became enamored with the sport, she began to take an interest in it.

Today, I find myself married to a NASCAR fanatic. Who would have imagined that after 30 years together that she would finally come around to my way of thinking?

Oh, but it’s more than just an interest with her. When she likes something, she becomes intensely immersed in it. It could be considered an obsession. She studies the issues, learns about the racetracks, conditions, even technicalities related to the cars. But mostly, she knows about the drivers, their crew chiefs and even some of the team members. Some she likes. Others she does not.

Through the magic of satellite television, there’s enough NASCAR programming to keep our interest peaked long into December and on most weekends. However, race day is the pinnacle of the week.

Carol’s favorite driver is Ryan Newman, who drives the #12 Alltel Dodge. On race day, we even set up a “shrine” to him on the wood stove (when it’s not in use, of course.) It contains a book about Newman’s racing career, given to her at Christmas, a small replica of the #12 car, a Ryan Newman hat, and some other small things.

She was a fan of Rusty Wallace, before he retired. He and Ryan were not-so-compatible teammates.

When we moved to Arkansas, we brought with us a life-size cutout of Rusty that was given to us, where it watches over our garage area.

As the hours tick by before the race begins, there’s a ritual that must take place. First, she has to make her “lucky” guacamole dip.

Then our aging laptop computer is set up to receive the in-car audio from the Internet, always set to the #12 team. It must all be done during the pre-race shows so we can catch the first radio checks between Ryan and Crew Chief Mike Nelson.

By the time the green flag has waved, we’re ready for whatever will be, always with the hope that the #12 will charge out to the front and make it to Victory Lane. That hasn’t happened in a long time.

Newman, who is nicknamed “Rocket Man,” has had a run of bad luck, but Carol always has high hopes of a comeback.

One of the main rules during the race is “No talking.” She doesn’t want to miss a thing on the track. And heaven help the driver that runs into Newman, or causes him to spin out.

As the race rolls along, she remains glued to the television, while we both curse the endless stream of commercials that obscure what’s happening on the track.

When the race is over, it’s time for the post-race wrap-up shows that continues on for at least another hour.

People that know us know better than to invite us over on race days. We already have plans for the afternoon or evening.

It’s funny how, for years, auto racing has always been considered a man’s sport.

All I have to say is “Think Again.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ryan Newman haters don't get it

When I really care about something, I'm all in. 

This week, I've scoured the internet, reading everything I could about #NASCAR in general and #RyanNewman in particular. 

The rub seems to have come from Newman besting Jeff Gordon by one-point at Phoenix last Sunday despite Gordon's second place finish. Newman finished 11th. But it was all he needed to advance his career and turn his season into a real game-changer. Newman's bold maneuver to move rookie Kyle Larson up the track on the last lap gave Newman the one point he needed to make him eligible for the final round of the Chase for the Championship. 

Such a move is generally lauded by NASCAR fans, as long as it is their driver that does it. But since it was Newman, who hadn't won a race all season, NASCAR old-timers were furious that he should be given a spot among the final four who will contend for the Sprint Cup Championship. 

NASCAR fans are beside themselves, especially those that favor Jeff Gordon. Incidentally, neither Larson nor Gordon have faulted Newman for doing his job, in getting beside Larson and moving him out of the way. It isn't like every driver on the circuit hasn't done the exact same thing. Newman's entire season and potentially his entire racing career was dependent on passing one car. 

The fact that Larson hit the wall made the incident look worse than it was, however, Larson wasn't 'taken out' as so many have categorized. He bounced off the wall, finished the race, and lost just two spots. It didn't alter his season one bit. For a rookie, he had a great one. 

After reading articles, listening to interviews, and checking out and adding to comments, I've come to the conclusion that people making often rude, ugly, undeserved remarks are simply mental midgets who couldn't think their way out of a paper bag. And there is no reasoning with them because they don't listen to anything but their own skewed, biased, uninformed view. It is really sad! The only thing they see is the 'win' column, yet there is so much more to a champion than crossing the finish line first.

Some have even said Newman should step aside and give his position to Jeff Gordon because Gordon is more deserving. Are they kidding? 

NASCAR loves all the controversy that has come with their newly-designed Chase for the Championship. Last week Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, came to blows, involving other teams who ended up penalized and fined by NASCAR. The week before in an uncharacteristic move Matt Kenseth came after Keselowski in the garage area. All this means interest and that translates into dollars. To them, this is the only mark of success that matters.

Race fans that have been loyal to their sport and loyal to their favorite driver are furious that a driver who hasn't won a race all year could possibly end up a champion. They hate how this entire thing was handled. So, they are taking it all out on Newman. In reality, it is NASCAR that should be their focus. NASCAR made the rules.

NASCAR may lose them but that will be okay just as long as someone else takes their place. NASCAR doesn't care where the money comes from. New blood may be just what NASCAR thinks it needs. It would be nice to think there is a grand plan to open up the sport of stock car racing to new ideas and new interests. I suspect though, that is wishful thinking. I am more apt to think NASCAR simply bungled things. They thought they were setting up a fail-safe system where the champion would be the guy with the most points because he won the most races. They swore the Chase would be all about winning.  They didn't count on the likes of Ryan Newman. 

NASCAR felt their new Chase scenario would let the cream rise to the top. Winning and leading laps would bring bonus points, but the crux of the system was passing race cars. Generally it is thought that the winner would pass the most cars. In a perfect world, that would be the case. They couldn't count however, on circumstances that would befall each and every driver. Who could predict if a crash would take out chase contenders? So NASCAR did the best they could to tweak the points structure that would reward winning. 

The one way they could have eliminated the mess they've gotten themselves into with a non-winner competing for the trophy, would be to let those who have won races keep the points they earned previously. Even Newman was against resetting the points after each round of the Chase, despite the benefit to him and Matt Kenseth who also was winless during the 2014 season, but advanced to the top 8. Still, there may be no guarantee that only race winners would be eligible to win the trophy. 

I've observed that winning a race today is far less about the driver than it used to be. With NASCAR determining every variable about the race car, the tires, the fuel, and the rules governing every aspect of the sport, there is little drivers can do differently. So much emphasis is now placed on managing tires, pit stops, fuel mileage, etc. NASCAR is now a team sport, but unlike baseball and football, there is still that one all-important man behind the wheel. Some fans just can't wrap their heads around the fact that NASCAR is no longer the same sport as it was in the days of Junior Johnson turning his own wrenches, wheeling his own car that he could purchase at a dealer's showroom. In those days winning was everything. It reflected one man, one car, and one set of skills. He made all the decisions. He did all the work. He drove like hell and the fastest car took the checkered flag. With so many variables today, it isn't always the fastest car on the track. NASCAR is less sport and more show. Wrecks are practically figured into races. Unknowns are part of it now. And, they affect everything. Consistency has to be key. Now, winning is only part of the story. And NASCAR has implemented a points system. 

The game-changer was in 2003 when Ryan Newman won 8 races but Matt Kenseth took home the championship. Ever since then, NASCAR has been trying to tweak the system. This is the system we now have.

Every driver knew the rules at the start of the season. Every driver had the same chance to advance. The final four were the ones who earned the most points and advanced to be the best. The emphasis is no longer about winning; it is about passing cars on the race track. Presumably, the guy who passes the most cars is the winner. Not necessarily!

Newman is in his first year at Richard Childress Racing. He went to work with a new team, new crew chief, new sponsors, and changed everything, yet he was able to earn enough points, based on passing cars, to make it to the final round of the Chase. Do people think that just happened? I assure you, he worked his tail off to do it. He passed the second largest number of cars in the season, second only to Joey Logano who won five times. Tire problems, crashes, a pit road penalty, ill-handling race cars, etc. Newman overcame it all to turn what could have been an ugly day into a decent finish. And he did it consistently.

Unless you are a Newman fan and you follow his progress in this sport, you are probably completely unaware of how he has performed this season. Rarely was his name mentioned by commentators. Rarely was he interviewed. If I didn't listen to his radio communication, I wouldn't even know he was on the race track. Some of the things he has done this season, as he wheeled his car through the field, has been incredible. It is just too bad too many biased commentators would rather talk about Dale Jr. or Danica Patrick because they are popular, than to cover what is happening on the track.

For all those who are against Newman winning the championship, that's fine. Just try to at least be respectful for a guy who is just as deserving as the other three contenders and more deserving than those that didn't make the final four. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ryan Newman to contend for Championship in NASCAR-created controversial Chase

Oh boy, #NASCAR, what a race it was at Phoenix! 

Honestly, I don't remember anything but the last lap, and of course its controversial aftermath.

I suppose if I was a Jeff Gordon fan, I too would be disappointed. Disappointed is one thing, but the vitriol against Ryan Newman has shocked me. 

CHonTrack: Ryan Newman #31Get a grip people! I've watched replays, read all the articles, and even made a few comments to set the record straight. 

For the record, Ryan Newman did not wreck Kyle Larson. No one was more disappointed at the finality of the race than Jeff Gordon., but even he agreed that Newman didn't wreck Larson.

"Well, he ran him wide. I don’t know if I’d say he wrecked him. He certainly ran him up the race track," Gordon said in a post race interview. 

What Newman did was race hard, which is his job. The video of the incident shows that Newman drifted up toward Larson's #42 in an effort to get around him. It appears as if Larson got loose, hit the wall, recovered, while Newman sped past him, gaining the one point he needed to advance to the final round in his quest for his first championship. It must be noted that Larson not only finished the race; he only lost two spots in the process. 

While the terms, "bumped, rubbed, and moved out of the way" are appropriate, it is wrong to characterize what happened as Newman wrecking the rookie Kyle Larson. 

Newman did nothing different than any other driver in the garage would have and has done. In fact, Kyle Larson did the same thing to Marcos Ambros the lap before. 

There was a championship on the line for Newman. He drove as hard as he had to to remain in contention. 

There is one thing Newman did, however, that other drivers don't normally do. Newman issued his regret for having to race that hard. With his characteristic good humor, in contrast to his appearance, sitting against a curb disheveled and exhausted, Newman justified the move as payback for Larson doing the same thing to him, costing him a $9,000 win in an Eldora dirt race. 

Winning isn't necessary

NASCAR has said it wants to reward winning. That sent mixed signals, since each round of the Chase for the Championship took away the perks for previous wins. 

Newman questioned NASCAR's move to reset the extra points for past race winners during the championship contender rounds, which indicates his open-minded fairness, since such a change would have hurt him and Matt Kenseth, who was also winless this season. 

Newman cannot be blamed for contending for the championship with no wins during the season. In fact, consider that Newman had to work even harder to gain points without a win. His consistency in making the most out of whatever hand he was dealt made the difference. The stats prove that too, as he was second overall in passing for points, behind Logano who won five races. Gordon, who was just one point behind Newman in the current standings was only sixth best in earning points. That statistic is a legitimate one, because it gauges passing other cars for position. Using that criteria, which NASCAR has done this year, winning appears much less important. 

Since the cars are so evenly matched, which is also NASCAR's doing, the only way to win is through strategy, using every advantage, such as for gas mileage, tire wear, fast pit stops, leading laps, and often times, aggressive driving. 

Chase for the Championship created drama

This year's Chase for the Championship has done what NASCAR intended it to do. It has raised the level of excitement to a fever pitch. I've been watching NASCAR since the Chase began and never has the bar been raised so high. The last three races ended in controversy over aggressive driving, though this was mild compared to the previous weeks. 

There was no potential violence between Newman and Larson. Quite the contrary in fact, as I've been told that Larson congratulated Newman on making it as a contender for the Championship.

That can't be said for the last two weeks, where Brad Keselowski's aggressive driving actually drew blood. At Charlotte two weeks ago, Matt Kenseth went after Keselowski. Last week it was Gordon that chased him down, resulting in both being bloodied about the face. NASCAR even issued fines against some of the crew members of teams that participated in the brawl.

Make no mistake, the stepped-up emotions of drivers, teams, and fans this year, is the doing of NASCAR's tweaking of the Chase for the Championship. 

UPDATE--Kyle Larson quote: 
"Coming to the finish, there were a lot of cars racing really hard. I knew the 31 was right around me, and knew he needed to gain some spots to keep from getting eliminated from the Chase. It's a little upsetting he pushed me up to the wall, but I completely understand the situation he was in, and can't fault him for being aggressive there. I think a lot of drivers out here would have done something similar if they were in that position."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ryan Newman's consistency should not be controversial

Ryan Newman Pit-Stop
Ryan Newman Pit-Stop
photo courtesy of Quicken Loans Racing
One of the least controversial characters in the #NASCAR garage area is Ryan Newman. So why is it that controversy follows him like hunks of bread from the hands of Hansel and Gretel?

It isn't Ryan Newman's doing. Just ask any member of the growing #NewmanNation.

The latest fluff in the media is about the fact that Newman is currently second in points in NASCAR's prestigious Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, which has just three races left. And Newman is win-less for the season.

For anyone that is aghast at the fact that Newman is ranking so high on consistency, but not in the wins column, it really doesn't matter. So what if he hasn't won a race in the 2014 season. I can say that because in so many ways, winning a race is simply a formality; the exclamation point is on all that took place in the previous 500 laps or so, depending on the race track of course. In that regard, Newman and his Richard Childress Racing team has excelled. Despite NASCAR's many tweaks of the format, and hoped for emphasis on winning, the real result comes from consistency and strategy. Newman excels at both!

Since NASCAR has fiddled with the racing rules, the cars, the tracks, and just about everything possible, stock car racing is no longer strictly in the hands of the driver. The sport has strayed far from its roots. Today, racing is probably governed by 50% driver skill, 40% team strategy, and 10% luck. Some say even those percentages should be reversed. Gone are the days when pit stops were just about turning wrenches. On race day, the pit box is littered with expensive equipment, computer programs, and technical advances far beyond what could have ever been envisioned by the Alabama gang or their compadres from the good ole days.

Racing is no longer just all about driving hard and running fast, though those things are certainly factors. NASCAR has made the cars, and teams so equal and administered so many rules, that teams have had to resort to doing the best they can with what they have. In Ryan Newman's case, that means being consistent. 

Newman and his team have mastered the delicate dance of driving skill, strategy, managing tires, fuel, speed, down force, side force, track and air temperature, monitoring the weather, and the all-important balance of the race car in all the varied conditions during a race. And they have done it consistently. That takes smarts. Newman and his team have smarts. 

The one thing that Newman hasn't employed is being overly aggressive. If he drove that way--if he was willing to cut off an opponent or wrecklessly bump people out of his way as others have done, he would have won races. How many times have spectators expected Newman to retaliate against another driver? He doesn't stoop to that level. 

Newman and his team have evaluated the game and is playing by the rules NASCAR devised. He need not make any apologies for his string of top 5's and top 10's, often times by overcoming adversity. He can be very proud of his achievements. His fans certainly are. While he may not have a room full of trophies for 2014, he doesn't need to. Despite NASCAR's desire to make winning the focus of this year's chase, they failed to make that happen. Even Newman was critical of the format that reset the points at each level of the Chase without rewarding for wins. That is what he advocated for, despite that stance potentially harming his own position. That too is laudable.

The bottom line is, Newman can win it all. He can win it all without having to compromise his driving style. He can be victorious by being who he is. I for one, certainly hope he does!