Senior staff writer
South Bend native Ryan Newman could use a win in one of his next seven races to guarantee him a spot in NASCAR’s Chase.
He has made The Chase without a win in the last two seasons and was in contention for the Sprint Cup title among the final four in 2014 at Homestead. He may need to snap his string of 106 races without a win soon.
Newman finished fifth in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway and was 12th in points after 18 races. Sixteen drivers make the first round of The Chase, and there are six races left after the Brickyard 400.
Through 18 races, excluding New Hampshire, 11 drivers have won races this season. Rookie Chase Elliott, who is winless, was eighth and Newman 12th. Several different winners would have to step up to knock them from The Chase.
Newman, driver of the No. 31 Childress Racing Caterpillar Chevrolet, said he believes the team has some momentum. “Our first top five from an organization, our team at least, that’s a big deal. Leading into this stretch of races especially where we are in the Chase and to have good points even though it wasn’t a win; it's a small victory in itself. ”
Only three points separated Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and teammate Austin Newman when they left Kentucky Speedway.
Newman, who has a degree in vehicle structural engineering from Purdue, is in his final year of a three-year contract with Childress.
New Castle’s Dakoda Armstrong returns to the Speedway for the Xfinity Lilly Diabetes 250 Saturday at 3:30 p.m. for his third race on the 2.5-mile oval but with a different team.
Armstrong, who raced in the series for two years for Richard Petty, drives for JGL Racing in the No. 28 Winfield Toyota. He was 12th in points last season, but Petty did not have the funding to continue in the series.
“I thought maybe something would come together midseason,” said Armstrong of facing 2016 without a ride. “This deal came together, and I didn’t have to miss a race.”
Armstrong lives in Mount Holly, N.C., which is close to his new team’s headquarters. His best finish this season was 12th at Daytona earlier this month; he is 15th in points. His best career finish was fifth in July 2014 at Daytona, where he started from the pole.
Armstrong, who has 90 starts in the series, said the Petty and JGL teams are similar in many ways, especially in terms of equipment, although Petty utilized Ford products.
“Having some experience in these cars has helped, but we’re still trying to prove ourselves,” said Armstrong, the only Indiana-born driver in the series. “We want to get better in the last half of the season. Equipment-wise, it seems the same.”
The Armstrong family is involved in various forms of racing. Dakoda strictly races the Xfinity Series, brother Dalton Armstrong is second in points in the ARCA/CRA Super Late Models, and cousin Caleb Armstrong is recovering from a severely broken ankle suffered in a winged sprint car accident.
Team haulers arrive on Main Street in Speedway at 5 p.m. Thursday for a gala that features entertainment and food.
Friday’s practice sessions for Sprint Cup drivers are at 1:30 and 4 p.m., Xfinity Series at noon and 3 p.m.
Saturday’s highlight is the Lilly Diabetes 250 at 3:30 p.m. in segments of 20, 20 and 60 laps, a new format. Gates open at 7 a.m., qualifying at 11:40 a.m.; Sprint Cup qualifying is at 1:45 p.m. Concerts begin at 7 p.m. with Kid Rock taking the stage at 8 p.m.
Gates open Sunday at 10 a.m. with driver introductions at 2:30 p.m. and a 3:19 p.m. start for the 23rd running of the Brickyard 400. Reserved seats are $45; general admission is $40.
Thirteen drivers have won the Brickyard 400, topped by retired Jeff Gordon’s five wins (1994,’98, 2001, ’04, ’14).
Multiple victories also belong to Jimmie Johnson (’06, ’08, ’09, 2012), Dale Jarrett (1996, ’99) and Tony Stewart (2005, ’07). Nine drivers have won once: Dale Earnhardt ’95; Ricky Rudd ’97; Bobby Labonte ’00; Bill Elliott ’02; Kevin Harvick ’02; Jamie McMurray ’10; Paul Menard ’11; Ryan Newman ’13; and Kyle Busch ’15.
Gordon is the only drive to have started all 22 Brickyard 400s. Labonte had 21 starts; Jeff Burton and Mark Martin each had 20. Stewart leads all active drivers with 17; Matt Kenseth has 16 and Kyle Busch, Harvick and Newman have 15.