Monday, September 23, 2019

Newman On The Cusp Of Playoff Advancement

Ryan Newman continues to do more with less.

Just two weeks after sliding into the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on points, the Roush Fenway Racing veteran now appears ready to advance to the postseason Round of 12.

A season best fifth-place finish in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond boosted Newman above the cutline for advancement, heading into Sunday’s first elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Newman qualified 19th, drove immediately into the Top-10 at the drop of the green flag and ran as high as third in the race’s middle stages. He spent the entire evening racing strongly among the Top-8, displaying a degree of speed that RFR has often struggled to attain this season.  

He now ranks ninth in the postseason standings -- 14 ahead bubble man Alex Bowman – and likely needs nothing more than another Top-10 showing on the ROVAL to advance to the second round.

It’s been a long time since Newman has ranked among NASCAR’s title contenders. He fell just one spot short of a championship at Homestead Miami Speedway in 2014 – despite not winning a race – but has ranked between 11th and 18th in each of the last four seasons. A lackluster 17th-place effort preceded his move from Richard Childress Racing to Roush Fenway Racing this season, giving Jack Roush’s organization a much-needed infusion of veteran experience.

It has taken a while to turn things around, and Newman readily admits that there is much more work to do. But his analytical, “steady as she goes” approach has proven to be just what the doctor ordered for an RFR team that is struggling to regain its once-lofty perch among NASCAR’s elite organizations.

“There are a lot of teams that would like to be in our situation,” said Newman late in the regular season. “There are a lot of teams better than (us) that would love to be fighting for a playoff berth. We will do what we can to be the best we can and enjoy the race. There is a lot going on, but I definitely enjoy it.”

Saturday night, after raising the RFR bar yet again, a characteristically low-key Newman analyzed a performance that brought him – perhaps unexpectedly – to the brink of the Round of 12.

“It was a good team effort, (with) good pit stops,” he said. “There wasn’t a whole lot to (our strategy); just put four tires on. But we had a good short-run car. At one time, we had a good long-run car, but we could never get both. If we would have had both, we could have ran with those (Joe Gibbs Racing) guys, but who would have known there were going to be that many green flag runs?

Newman called Richmond, “Our best team performance all-around, throughout the entire weekend. We failed at qualifying. We got the car too tight, but overall, it was a great team effort to get the Roush Performance Ford a good run.

“What meant the most to me was being better than we were the first race (in the spring),” he added. “We ran ninth in the first race and qualified 30th or something like that. We came back and showed that we are learning, and we’ll keep learning.”

With 36 points added to his playoff total, the Indiana native now owns a 14-point edge over Alex Bowman; the first driver below the cutoff line.

“I don’t know that I’m looking forward to the ROVAL,” he admitted. “I don’t really know anybody that is, except for maybe Truex. Our team is so new. It is newer than I have ever experienced,” he admitted. “The changes we had in the offseason, I think were underestimated by me. (It was) a huge change to tackle.

“I feel like we have done a good job,” he said. “We just need to continue to progress and make our cars go faster. Good things need to turn into great things. Those experiences will hopefully build a notebook… and help us be more successful.”

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