Southsider Voice correspondent
Ryan Newman almost accomplished the impossible in 2014. The Indiana-born NASCAR driver came
close to stealing last year’s Sprint Cup championship without a win. He qualified for the revamped 16-driver Chase without a win and reached the final four at Homestead winless.
No one ever has won the season championship without a win.
Last year NASCAR upped the intensity for The Chase: win a race and you’re in, with only three drivers working their way into the Sweet 16 on season points. The South Bend native was the last driver in on points for the 10-event Chase. He only had two top five finishes in the first 26 races. Newman made the final four with a daring last-lap, fourth-turn bump at Phoenix against Kyle Larson that eliminated Jeff Gordon from the competition. Kevin Harvick won the finale by passing Newman with three laps to go in his first
year with Stewart-Haas Racing. Newman wound up second in points in his first year
with Harvick’s former team owner, Richard Childress.
“Everybody stepped up, the crew, the engine guys,” Newman said at the Charlotte Motor Speedway media tour in late January. “Last May we got caught going in the wrong direction. They did an awesome job of continually bringing more competitive pieces to the track. To be a part of the end result was
an awesome thing.”
Somewhat unheralded, Newman enters his 15th Cup season with 17 wins and $79.4
million in winnings. His last win was in the 2013 Brickyard 400 in his final season with Stewart-Haas.
Newman also reflected upon all the feudin’ and fightin’ that ensued due to the intense emotions fostered by the new format of The Chase. Off-track skirmishes involved Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon at Texas and Matt Kenseth and Keselowski at Charlotte.
“My wife bought me a pair of brass knuckles for Christmas,” Newman joked. “I think we all saw gunpowder on the floor, but we didn’t know who was going to light it or how much of it was going to go off. Every bit of it went off and then some.” Newman expects that emotions will run high all season. “As NASCAR makes the cars more competitive, the more weight is put upon the drivers to get every inch from the car,” Newman said.
Childress agreed, “You’re going to see some of the hardest and best racing we’ve ever seen in NASCAR
because everyone knows how important it is to be in the top 16.” Newman, a Purdue graduate with a degree in engineering, looked at the rules package, which hopefully lead to more passing on the
“The new package takes us to where we were two years ago on down force,” Newman said. “The difference is that we didn’t have a static ride rule then. The cars will be more competitive in dirty air than they were then.
The racing will be better.” Newman contends the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet crew has momentum after nearly
stealing The Chase last year. Childress and Newman plan on doing it a bit differently this year.
“You win and you’re in,” Newman said.