Senior staff writer
South Bend’s Ryan Newman doesn’t have to worry about winning a Monster Energy Cup race this season to qualify for the playoffs.
Newman already has one win earlier this season at Phoenix in the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet for team owner Richard Childress. It was the Hoosier native’s first win since 2013 in the Brickyard 400 and his first win for Childress. He snapped a 127-race winless skid in Arizona.
Getting into NASCAR’s playoff on wins has always been Newman’s goal, although he made it three of seven times on points.
“I don’t remember the last time I had a win and didn’t have to worry about getting in on points,” Newman said. “It is nice to have that off your mind.”
Before the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, Newman explained, “We want to do everything to the best of our ability and try to get those stage bonus points and as many regular season points as we can and have whatever cushion we can have to start the playoffs. And then each round of the playoffs so we have a better opportunity of racing for a championship at Homestead.”
Newman, 39, quickly added, “It still revolves around winning.”
Through 18 races he was among 10 drivers who have won at least once. Seven races remain to decide the 16 drivers in the playoffs, which means a lot of different winners would have to emerge to spoil Newman’s chances. A second would lock him into the playoff.
He reached the final four in 2014 without winning a race but was in contention for the Cup championship. He made the playoffs with a dramatic last-lap pass of Kyle Larson. He finished second in points to champion Kevin Harvick.
The Hoosier native is in his 16th full season in Cup, having raced for Roger Penske, Carl Haas, Tony Stewart and Childress. He is the only driver to have earned Rookie of the Year Honors in USAC’s national Silver Crown, sprint and midget series. He won the 1999 Silver Crown championship.
Newman, who has a vehicle structural engineering degree from Purdue, spoke out against NASCAR’s myriad of rules changes and tweaking races.
“We (teams) need the ability to make an advantage or create an advantage over other teams,” he said. “If we want to have every race car built exactly the same, then we need to have NASCAR start building them for us and just put decals on the doors.”
Newman, wife Crissy, and their two young daughters are right at home in Mooresville, N.C., where they operate Rescue Ranch for forgotten farm animals, reptiles and birds to provide educational experiences for young students who learn about caring for animals.
Newman hasn’t forgotten his roots that began by helping his dad build his first midget car at age 15 years after racing three-quarter midgets for 10 years. He eventually advanced to Silver Crown and to ARCA which led to his NASCAR ride with Penske.
Brickyard 400 notes
• Sunday’s official race name is the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400, with Gilbert performing for pre-race ceremonies. Gilbert is among Big Machine Label Group artists.
• Five-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon will drive the Chevrolet Camaro ZL 1 pace car to start the 400.
• Festivities begin Friday evening with the traditional hauler parade from 4-8 p.m. on Main Street in Speedway, with musical entertainment, food and appearances by past Brickyard 400 winners Newman, Harvick, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard plus Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth. The haulers are expected to arrive at 6 p.m.
• 400 Fest, a new two-night concert at IMS, hopefully will attract fans with Major Lazar, Mac Miller and Cheat Codes performing Friday and The Chainsmokers, Pretty Lights and DNCE Saturday. Performances begin at 7 p.m. each day.
• Cup practice at 9 and 11 a.m. Saturday, qualifying at 6:15 p.m. and the race at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.