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While many people thought Ryan Newman would be the man to beat in 2004, his actual performance chart looked more like a seismograph tape registering a sizable earthquake.
Ryan “The Rocket” racked up an amazing 9 poles in ‘04, putting him tied at 23rd for all-time poles in the record books after only 3 full-time seasons. In addition to his qualifying brilliance, Newman managed 2 wins. The first came in June at the DHL 400 at Michigan, while the second was a dominating show of force at the MBNA America 400 in Dover. Unfortunately, along with those high numbers came some equally high numbers on the low side of the scale.
Fourteen times in ‘04, Ryan finished 20th or lower, including 9 DNFs. Amazingly, Newman led 567 laps during the chase, the most of any other chaser. I say amazingly because 4 of his 9 DNFs came during the final ten races.
“Well, it’s been the same pretty much the last three seasons, and I’ve called it a roller coaster every time,” Newman said. “I guess it’s part of the sport when you’ve got 42 other competitors. Your odds are kind of against you that you’re going to finish in the top 10 every week.”
As up and down as 2004 may have been, the #12 Alltel team is looking forward to 2005. “We’re not really disappointed that we weren’t picked to win the championship this year. We were in 2004, and that was a lot of pressure on the team,” said Newman.
Even though not being picked to win the Cup in ‘05 may relieve some perceived pressure, the Penske camp has a lot of changes to deal with this year. Penske Racing South is currently busy moving into its new home at 200 Penske Way in Mooresville, N.C. While many divisions of the race team have already moved, the No. 12 ALLTEL team looks to be completely and permanently housed in the new facility following the 2005 Daytona 500.
Aside from new headquarters, the biggest change will be the new Dodge Charger. “Anytime the body style changes on a race car, it’s big,” said Newman. “We just concentrate on how we can make it the fastest car on the track. We take the changes in stride and work with the car to prepare it for both qualifying and racing.”
And how will the new qualifying rules affect ‘The Rocket’? “While the rules may have changed, the playing field is still the same. We won poles while everyone was in qualifying trim, and we’ll win poles when everyone is in race trim. Collectively, our goal is to be the fastest car every time we’re on the track. That won’t change.”
As for all those preseason prognasticators out there, they don’t phase Newman. “Picks are just picks,” Ryan said. “They don’t guarantee you anything. Maybe we’ll prove them wrong again this year.”
The experts might not be picking Newman to win the Cup, but not being one to take unnecessary chances, he’s once again on MY fantasy team!
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