It’s odd identifying Ryan Newman with the old guard in NASCAR today. It does not seem that long ago that he and Jimmie Johnson were vying for the 2002 Rookie of the Year award, with Newman fresh off of a stellar limited campaign in 2001. Newman was set to be the top dog for Penske Racing then, with many certain that he’d bring them a Winston Cup championship.
Well, it’s 2017, Winston Cup is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Penske Racing is now Team Penske, and Newman is now a Richard Childress Racing driver who hasn’t been claiming poles or wins like he once did, way back in 2003. But as of March 19, 2017, he’s still proving that he can win and take NASCAR’s young blood to task, as he held off a Kyle Larson (who so happens to be having a stellar stretch in his No. 42) to win the Good Sam 500 at Phoenix Raceway.
Since joining RCR in 2014, Newman has made the playoffs a couple of times (2014, 2015), with his ’14 effort culminating in a narrow championship miss, finishing second to Kevin Harvick in the standings. But he went winless that year, the next year, and the year after in 2016. Although he’s no stranger to Victory Lane with 18 wins under his belt (including the 2008 Daytona 500), his runner-up points finish was only his third top-10 points effort since 2009.
That said, it’s easy to count Newman out in this day and age when compared to a driver like Larson, whose 2017 finishes in four races are 12th, second, second, second (compared to Newman’s 2017 stats of 21st, 35th, 17th, and first). Or a driver like Joey Logano, for that matter, whose 2017 stats are sixth, sixth, sixth, and 31st (a late-race crash at Phoenix negated a pole and 82 laps led).
With a winless drought broken at 127 races, the win is huge for him and crew chief Luke Lambert, who made the call Sunday to stay out on old tires.
“It’s sweet for so many reasons. I said that when I won the Brickyard. I said that when I won at Daytona. This has been the longest drought I’ve ever been in. Even in Phoenix, the runners up suck,” said Newman. “It’s just a hard-fought race, a hard-fought battle, a hard-fought four years. I got to thank Richard and Judy, everybody at RCR, ECR, for not only giving me the opportunity to drive the racecar but giving me a racecar that’s in contention to win a race.”
On that note, when it comes to the old guard, there are few teams that are as old school as RCR. Winless since Phoenix in the Fall of 2013, RCR has been around since 1969. With 106 Cup wins to their credit, Sunday’s win indeed was a step in a direction that the championship organization was more used to.
It’s been a long hard road for both Newman and RCR in the meanwhile, and understandably, many were quick to write them off. They hadn’t won. They weren’t contending and dominating like they once were. With guys like Larson, Logano and Chase Elliott coming along, we’ll be seeing more of them and less of guys like Newman.
Those were arguments that we’ve made throughout Newman’s drought, but if the win yesterday proved anything, it’s that the old guard isn’t ready to move out of the way just yet.