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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ryan Newman consistent, even in criticism

I'm a blogger, but as a retired writer, I have afforded myself the luxury of writing when I feel like it. Today, I definitely feel like it after reading way too many disparaging remarks aimed at Ryan Newman who was critical of NASCAR after Sunday night's race.

I haven't posted lately because I've just been a little disgusted with NASCAR.

First there was that whole controversy regarding Ryan Newman's penalty that left him without a crew chief and several of his seasoned crew members for weeks. NASCAR penalized the #31 Richard Childress Racing team for tinkering with tires. Since then there have been other "cheating" incidents, but no one has had the proverbial book thrown at them as Newman has. Typical!

I cannot remain silent as Newman is defamed by so many NASCAR fans who seemingly enjoy bashing him. The comments I've read are positively ugly, mean-spirited, off-base, and in the view of anyone who has followed Newman, completely wrong.

Numerous ignorant comments have responded to Newman's remarks after the last lap crash at Daytona that started Sunday night, July 5 and finished early Monday morning, July 6 at 3 a.m. eastern time. I'm lucky to live in the central time zone, so it was only 2 a.m. for me.

Following the wreck which sent Newman's teammate Austin Dillon into the catch fence upside down and wrecked nearly every remaining car left in the field, Newman was quoted as saying, "NASCAR got what they wanted." He went on to criticize restrictor plate racing when he said. "Cars getting airborne, unsafe drivers, same old stuff. They just don't listen."

Fortunately Dillon wasn't seriously injured. A few fans in the grandstands were hit by flying debris, but none were seriously hurt.

Congratulations to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who won the race after dominating the entire night.

First of all, as pointed out by Kyle Petty the following day, Newman spoke not long after the wreck occurred. Petty explained Newman's words as being said in the heat of the moment, intimating that emotions have to be taken into consideration when analyzing what Newman said.

When the wreck happened, Newman could see his teammate, Dillon, flying through the air just past his own rear quarter panel. Newman had been riding around in the back of the pack for most of the race, which is common practice for him, just to stay out of the melee that always ensues at restrictor plate tracks. The strategy paid off too, because Newman dodged three big wrecks Sunday night.

It is no secret that Newman has never been a fan of restrictor plate racing. As a race car driver, he wants to be the one to wheel his race car, to be in complete control of it. At Daytona and Talladega, there are plenty of times the driver is not in control of his own race car. Rather drivers are at the mercy of other drivers, some which aren't always very experienced. Let's face it, when 40 plus cars are driving nose to tail in three-wide conditions at 200 mph plus, one miniscule move can affect them all and often does.

Newman has been involved in numerous incidents at those two tracks that are just as horrific as the most recent wreck. Customarily, the wrecks are not of his own doing. Ryan Newman has certainly 'flown' before. See this story. To see other related stories, just type Talladega into the search box. 

Newman has consistently been outspoken about restrictor plate racing.

Back in the Fall of 2009 at Talladega, Newman's car was launched backwards into the air, did a back-flip onto the hood of Kevin Harvick's car, skidded upside down into the wall, where it rolled several times, finally coming to rest in the grass, on its roof.

This incident was the return to Talladega when just that Spring, a last lap crash caused Carl Edwards' car to flip into the catch fence. Newman was involved in that incident as well, as Edwards' airborne car flew into Newman's windshield as he raced for the checkered flag.

"It's just a product of this racing and what NASCAR has put us into with this box and these restrictor plates with these types of cars," Newman said after that Fall race. "The more rules, the more NASCAR is telling us how to drive the race cars, the less we can race, and the less we can put on a show for the fans."

"I will go back in the day, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, all those guys, they respected each other. In the end there were some big accidents, but geez, we don't need the cars getting upside down like this. This is ridiculous." Newman, who holds a degree in mechanical engineering at Purdue University, said, "There is technology available that can help." He said it was a shame that not more is being done.

Following Newman's remarks, NASCAR levied a $50,000 fine against him for speaking out "against the brand." The fine was only made public after reporters discovered it. There have been no other 'secret' fines since that time, that anyone is aware of.

Newman has been consistent in his criticism of NASCAR as it relates to flying race cars. So, it is within this context of his experience and education that his comments must be considered.

In the closing laps at Talladega in 2013, when Ricky Stenhouse misjudged the distance to take his car four-wide, numerous cars were sent spinning, Kurt Busch's car flipped over and landed on top of Newman's car. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

"They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls," Newman said at that time. "But they can't get their heads out of their asses far enough to keep them on the race track, and that's pretty disappointing. I wanted to make sure I get that point across. Y'all can figure out who 'they' is," Newman said. He was critical of NASCAR, citing poor judgement for starting the race in the dark and letting it continue when it was clearly raining.

Rain seems to be a real issue for NASCAR. That was the case Sunday night as well. The Daytona race was delayed because of rain. When it finally did begin, it started at about the time it normally would have finished. The race ended in the early morning hours, which might also have contributed to the plethora of bad crashes.

Even commentators acknowledged prior to the race that the lateness of the hour could cause more mistakes than usual.

Surprisingly, few comments have been made about the late hour. I can't help but wonder how many Newman haters even watched the entire race, or were they merely reacting to what others said. There definitely seems to be a trend lately, where comments are geared toward other comments, rather than in response to real facts.

I suppose the most galling for me is that when Newman criticized NASCAR about safety issues, he wasn't referring to overall safety issues. He has been very supportive of the work NASCAR has done in regard to safety.

After his own crash at Talladega in 2009, when he landed on his roof, it was recognized that more support was needed. NASCAR added an additional forward roof bar to the center roof support bar that intersects near the front center of the roll cage. The bar has been dubbed the Newman Bar.

While raucous fans are eager to spread their vitriol toward Ryan Newman, his remarks have been well-placed. Television news has started talking about restrictor plate racing. NASCAR is on the defensive, as they have gone out of their way to defend their efforts to make racing safer for drivers and fans alike. They speak about all that has been done since the 2001 crash ended the life of Dale Earnhardt.

It is amazing and wonderful that Austin Dillon walked away from what years ago could have been a life-ending wreck. So, yes, safety is being enhanced. But is it good enough? A different angle; a different speed? Safer barriers and the reinforced catch fence are better, but are they good enough? Flying debris should never hurt a race fan. Perhaps Newman is right, in that cars are still going airborne into the catch fence. For now, injuries have been relatively minor. But when planning for the protection of people's lives, there have to be what-if scenarios. Every angle must be considered. Good planning starts with asking all the right questions. Newman is asking them. It is time someone at NASCAR listens and uses its vast resources to act.