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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Could Ryan Newman find himself a free agent again?

Strong effort gives Newman, Army team 7th-plac...

Will Ryan Newman drive for Stewart-Haas Racing next year?

There have been hints that the unthinkable--Ryan with a different race team--could become reality, if permanent sponsorship for Newman's race team isn't found. Tony Stewart has apparently told Ryan that he is free to keep his options open. Newman's contract expires at the end of this season. SB Nation reported that Stewart wants to keep Ryan as his teammate, but that in the three years Newman has been at Stewart-Haas, his races have never been fully funded. Haas Automation, owned by Gene Haas, the team owner, has picked up the races that remained without a sponsor. Various companies have offered sponsorship for a limited number of races, but no one sponsor exists for the entire racing schedule.

I admit--I didn't see this one coming.

The added pressure of uncertainty about next year might explain the underlying frustration affecting the #39 team. It is difficult to say, however, because the #39 team's performance hasn't been up to its usual caliber either. The question then is, did frustration affect the team's performance or did poor performance result in the team's frustration?

There have been 11 races run so far in the 2012 season. With one win, two top 5's and three top 10's, the team's average finish was only 16.5. Of those, one was a DNF (did not finish) when an engine blew at Talladega early into the race.

Newman had a rough start to the season, finishing 21st at Daytona and Phoenix. At Las Vegas though, he finished 4th, followed by a 12th place finish at Bristol and 7th place at California and the win at Martinsville. Since that time though, there have been issues.

Newman was in the position to win at Martinsville, but he pulled it off by capitalizing on mistakes made by Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmy Johnson.

At Texas, Johnson complained that Newman was racing him too hard. See: Still complaining? Give me a break Jimmy Johnson. Newman finished 21st. At Kansas Newman made an unscheduled pit stop to change tires. He was unable to advance further than a 20th place finish. Newman eaked out a 15th place finish at Richmond, despite an ill-handling race car. Engine troubles ended the race for the #39 team early at Talladega. Darlington resulted in a 23rd place finish, thanks in part to a crash late in the race.

It was at Darlington that an incident involving Kurt Busch has brought further frustration to the race team.

Busch crashed his Phoenix Racing Team #51 car late in the race. As part of that incident, Newman checked up to avoid hitting him, causing Newman to get hit from behind, sending his #39 car spinning into the inside wall.

While Newman was on the track, Busch allegedly did a burnout through Newman's pit box, while the crew was still on pit road, which could have compromised the safety of some of the crew members from the #39 team. Following the race, #39 team members went looking for Busch.

As a result of his actions, Busch was fined $50,000 by NASCAR and put on probation, for wreckless driving. One of his crew members was fined $5,000 and put on probation until Dec. 31 for interfering with a cameraman. In the melee that followed, NASCAR fined Newman's gas man Andrew Rueger $5,000. He too was put on probation as was Newman's Crew Chief who according to NASCAR should be responsible for the team's actions.

Again, I'm stunned. I felt that Stewart-Haas Racing, Tony Stewart, and Ryan Newman were an excellent fit.

I just can't help but wonder about the timing of this "sponsorship" issue, which has never been a problem. There was always a non-committal, almost lackadaisical attitude about it.

I can't help but wonder, in revisiting the above story about Jimmy Johnson crying over Newman racing him too hard. When I was researching articles to write about Johnson, I came across one that indicated that Tony Stewart was in a tenable position because Jimmy Johnson has such a good relationship with Rick Hendrick.

Not only was the racing incident at issue, but the fact that Johnson or Gordon didn't win the 200th race for Hendrick; Newman won instead.

Hendrick does supply engines and parts for Stewart-Haas Racing. I dismissed it at the time, but is it possible that the writer knew something the rest of us didn't? I assumed that Stewart would never throw Newman under the bus to keep Hendrick happy. But now I am starting to wonder.

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