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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.