Who wasn't proud of Ryan Newman on Sunday? He finished in fourth place at Chicagoland Speedway to start the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship as he showed purpose, determination, and his signature consistency.
It was that consistency that nearly won him a championship last year.
NASCAR engineered the Chase for the Championship to give stock car racing an exciting playoff to end the season, not unlike other sports. Their most recent version of the Chase was billed as 'all about winning.'
Newman proved that isn't quite the case since he didn't win a single race last year, yet came nearly a hair's breadth from becoming the sports' champion.
Winning used to be everything in racing. It was a drivers' sport. But the rules have changed since a generation ago when all the decisions were made by the driver and his race team. There is more of an emphasis today on racing being a spectator sport. I don't see it that way and I admit it galls me a little when they call races a show for the fans. But this way, there is more money in it. While still a sport, racing now emphasizes it is more of a business.
Today, NASCAR is in complete control of the cars, the drivers, the tracks, the television viewing, the commentators; everything.
In an effort to create a greater spectacle, NASCAR has brought the latest adaptation to the sports' version of its championship playoff, with the Chase for the Championship. NASCAR thought they had the best of both worlds in their latest points system that awarded a point for each position gained on the track, a point for leading a lap, leading the most laps, and three points to the winner of the race. They advertised the new and improved Chase as having an emphasis on winning. Yet, Newman proved them wrong. Let's face it, as long as points are awarded, a mediocre or inexperienced driver who gets lucky and wins one or two, shouldn't be considered a champion. But consistency is also rewarded with points. That is where Newman excels, as he proved last year. There wasn't much NASCAR could do about it either, because he played by their rules. Race car drivers and his fans recognized that Newman worked hard to earn every point he got for which he was rewarded in the end.
Everyone had an opinion about the non-winning driver in championship contention. Comments at the end of last season were as varied as a Presidential race with Democrats and Republicans sniping at one another. And some of those comments were just as ugly. There were the Newman supporters, such as myself, who often faced off with fans of other drivers who didn't finish so well, who were flat out against a non-winner being eligible for a championship. There was a virtual war of words slung on social media and attached to magazine articles over Newman's being in the final four of the elimination round without winning a race. For those of us who follow Newman, we know he earned it. Announcers and even NASCAR knew he earned it.
But for those race fans who rarely saw Newman on the track, never saw him interviewed on television, or hardly ever even heard his name, they saw Newman as a johnny-come-lately who didn't deserve to be contending for a championship. For that, I blame those TV analysts that ignored Newman all season for whatever reason. I have my own ideas about why that is. In fact, I wrote a blog post last year that called Newman NASCAR's Rodney Dangerfield, because like the late comedian, Newman gets no respect.
NASCAR seemed to have it in for Newman too because he doesn't kowtow to them. He plays by the rules for the most part and uses the system to his advantage wherever he can. Basically, in my view, he outsmarts them and they don't take kindly to that. They also don't like that he is his own person and is not easily controlled. So when Newman bested two of the four drivers in the final heat of the Chase last year, coming in second, less than a half-second behind Kevin Harvick who ultimately won, some pretty nasty things were said.
The bottom line on Sunday, was that Ryan started the race in sixth position--based on the results of the first practice speed when qualifying was rained out. On on the last restart, Newman showed his championship potential. He restarted in 14th, after getting shuffled back in the prior restart. But during those closing six laps of the race, Ryan powered his car past ten others to finish fourth. It was amazing! It was a very good way to start the Chase for the Championship. As I've always said, Newman is the one to watch!
Monday, September 21, 2015
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
|Chicagoland Speedway, Joliet, IL|
Yet this is one time I'd consider sacrificing it all to be back in Illinois, where I used to live, not far from Chicagoland Speedway. I'd gladly dust off my press badge and would thrill to write about the weekend festivities at the track for the first race of the Chase for the 2015 Championship.
I watched the Chicagoland Speedway being built. In fact I wrote about it once or twice for the paper I worked for in those days. I even recall a huge controversy about locating that track a few miles further east. I was against it, as were so many other folks; it really was the wrong location. That was the early 1990's, long before I ever watched a race or knew much of anything about NASCAR. My, how times have changed!
If I was still there, I would love to watch the first race of the Chase. I'd be there for practice and qualifying and I'd take lots of pictures. I'd have to put on my reporters' hat, so I'd have to balance coverage for the entire process and to all of the teams. Perhaps I could write a story about how the two Richard Childress teams--#31 Ryan Newman and #27 Paul Menard feel about being eligible for the 10-race Chase by making it in on points rather than conventionally, with a win. Perhaps I could write a first person story about being at the track for the first time. I'd undoubtedly find some way to meet my favorite driver and to interview him.
Ryan doesn't get interviewed often, but I can guarantee I'd do him proud. After all, I'm a fan.
But wait, that was my old life. And I don't believe in regrets. So, I will be content to just watch the race on TV, perhaps making a little snack--Race-Day Guacamole--. I always keep an eye on NASCAR's Live Leaderboard and listen to Ryan and Luke on the radio.
I have high hopes that Ryan will get all the resources necessary to make his race car fast enough to compete. If the car is good, there is no doubt Ryan can wheel it right to the front.
Ryan knows his way around Chicagoland Speedway. He won in 2003 and has had three top-5s and eight top-10 finishes. He's led 182 laps there.
While he raced his way into the Chase on points, he's proven once again that winning a race isn't the only prescription for success. His consistency has been outstanding, except perhaps for Richmond. Not sure what happened, except that the handling of the car just wasn't there. It was a nail-biter, as I watched his points total stuck failing to add up. But as always, Ryan pulled it off, securing enough points to remain in the Top 16. This is the second time he's made the Chase without winning a race to get there, but he knows what he has to do. His team is willing to do their part to put the #31 in Victory Lane.
So, I plan to just enjoy the race.
I don't mind at all that I don't have to work on the weekend, take notes, photos, and put all the words together to come up with a story. There will be no traffic, no sunburn, no expensive ticket price, no missing aspects of Ryan's race because I'd have to concentrate on the job done by all the drivers. I rather enjoy being a no pressure spectator with a focus on just one driver. And as always, I have very high hopes.
Friday, September 4, 2015
It is time to say something nice about NASCAR. I haven't done that in a while.I know, I've been a bad blogger; I haven't written a thing here in several weeks. Thing is, as a retired journalist, I relish the fact that I no longer have to meet deadlines, so I write when I am inspired. I just haven't felt like it lately, but there was something I wanted to say after watching some of this afternoon's practice at Darlington.
I think #NASCAR did a good thing, by getting NBC to cover the sport. Adding Jeff Burton as an analyst has been a real plus. I enjoy his coverage of the races. Burton is intelligent, experienced, and he explains what is going on from a drivers' perspective.
Burton is fair in his treatment of all the drivers, not singling out any one of them. He is honest about them and isn't so syrupy that it is nauseating. I'm especially impressed at how Burton has spoken honestly about Ryan Newman's performance, specifically citing Newman's potential to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship this year. Burton has been there; in fact he used to drive Newman's car, prior to Newman's joining Richard Childress Racing. Other commentators have avoided coverage of Newman as if he is contagious; especially those from FOX and ABC. I think they are intimidated by Ryan's intellect and skittish about what he might say. Ryan speaks his mind and isn't going to be controlled by NASCAR or anyone. I don't think they get his dry sense of humor either.
I have seen more interviews of Newman in recent weeks on NBC, which is heartening, since he does have a fascinating story to tell. He is a championship-caliber driver who makes the most out of what every situation. Whether it be a crash not of his doing, a poor performing race car, or even making a mistake himself, which he has no problem owning up to, Newman does the best he can with what he's got. His performance last year, finishing less than a second behind Kevin Harvick for the championship, should have shown the kind of stuff he is made of. Yet it was so often ignored. Instead, so much was made of his not winning a race last year, or this year either, for that matter, that what he has done has been ignored. Burton gets it, however. He understands the challenges of race car drivers, because he's done it for years.
Burton respects Newman recognizes that Newman is not reckless, nor does he retaliate against other drivers. He has his own race to run and doesn't let pettiness get in his way. When he is wronged on the track, he doesn't focus on retaliation as some drivers have done. He has better things to do. Newman can think his way out of a situation and now seems to have the team to back him up. He and Crew Chief Luke Lambert seem to work very well together--in fact as well as Newman and Matt Borland from those early days when he drove for Roger Penske.
With the Chase for the Championship nearly upon us, I have no doubt that Newman will participate. I'm hoping for nearly as much excitement as last year, which was a nail biter.
So, way to go NASCAR, you finally did something I can agree with.