Ryan Newman let it all out Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, in the aftermath of a Lap 363 tangle with Tony Stewart that eventually swept up Newman, Stewart, Carl Edwards, David Ragan, Brian Scott, AJ Allmendinger and Dylan Lupton. Moments after exiting Richmond’s Infield Care Center, Newman lambasted Stewart on national TV and radio, even referencing the August 2014 incident that saw Stewart strike and kill driver Kevin Ward, Jr., with his Sprint Car on an upstate New York short track.
“(Stewart) cut across my line and couldn't control it,” said Newman Saturday night. “I guess he thought he was in a Sprint Car again and didn’t know how to control his anger. It’s just disappointing that you've got somebody old like that that (should retire), the way he drives. It's just ridiculous. I don't think there was any reason, other than him being bipolar and having anger issues. Google Tony Stewart, you'll see all kinds of things he's done. Look it up on YouTube. Quite the guy."
Under different circumstances, Newman’s comments might be chalked up as simple, “heat of the moment” emotion; the unhappy words of a man who had simultaneously crashed out of an important race, seen his 2016 Chase hopes dashed, likely forfeited a healthy salary bonus for making said Chase and opened the door to increased speculation about his possible departure from Richard Childress Racing at season’s end.
|Newman let loose Saturday|
Any of those four factors would be enough to trigger an outburst of anger. But Newman’s comments went well beyond the pale, exorcising demons that appear to date all the way back to the end of the 2013 season, when Newman was unceremoniously released by Stewart Haas Racing in favor of Kevin Harvick. At the time, Stewart said his team was unable to accomodate four drivers, only to reverse course a month later when partner Gene Haas – unbeknownst to Stewart, who was recuperating from a badly broken leg suffered in another Sprint Car crash – offered a contract to drive a fourth SHR entry.
Close friends with both Newman and Harvick, Stewart found himself in a decidedly awkward position. Newman said he understood, however, saying, "I don't think Tony lied to me at all. I don't think there were any hidden agendas on Tony's behalf. I've had a good relationship with him, and have been open with him, and my communication has been mostly with him (during) my whole relationship at Stewart-Haas Racing.
“I don't have any hard feelings.”
Saturday night, Newman’s comments were decidedly hard; filled with more anger than the on-track circumstances appeared to justify. Stewart responded to those comments with restraint, however, painting the incident as a case of too much contract by a driver (Newman) desperate to make the 2016 Chase.
|Friends no more?|
“That was the third time he'd driven into me during the night,” Stewart said. “How many times does a guy get a free pass until you've had enough of it? Ryan and I have been good friends. I don't do that to him. But he hit me in (turn) one, he hit me off of two and (the backstretch was) the third time. Three times. That's two more times than I normally let somebody run into me.”
For the record, Newman won four times during his four-year tenue at SHR, with just one Top-10 finish (a 10th) in the championship standings. After replacing Newman, Harvick claimed five wins and the Sprint Cup Series championship in his inaugural season, before finishing a close second to Kyle Busch last year. In his brief time with Stewart Haas, Harvick has 10 wins and has finished in the Top-5 an amazing 51% of the time.
Based strictly on the numbers, Haas’ decision to bring Harvick aboard has been a good one. That doesn’t prevent Newman from holding a grudge, however, even against a man (Stewart) he once called a close friend.
Unfortunately, Newman’s Richmond rant went well beyond persona and all the way to legal.
Despite being cleared of all legal charges in Ward’s tragic death, Stewart still faces a civil suit filed by Ward’s family. The basis of that suit is the contention that Stewart is a loose cannon, unpredictable and incapable of controlling his volcanic temper.
Now, one of Stewart’s fellow competitors – a former employee and close personal friend – has bolstered those allegations, using terms like “bipolar” and “anger issues” that will almost certainly be used against Stewart in a court of law.
In one moment of unbridled pique, Ryan Newman just became the lead witness for the prosecution.
And that, in my opinion, will be difficult to forgive and forget.