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!