The Frontstretch: What is Ryan (or Roger) Thinking? by Kurt Smith -- Friday July 18, 2008

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What is Ryan (or Roger) Thinking?

Kurt Smith · Friday July 18, 2008


Most all of us at some point in our lives have been dissatisfied with where we are in life—in a job, where we live, with our cars. And if things aren’t perfect for us now, it’s natural to think things could be better elsewhere. Sometimes that leads us to make decisions we end up regretting. I can certainly attest to that with job choices I have made in the past. (I’m not talking about the Frontstretch of course, I’m perfectly ok here.)

It’s also fair to suggest that Ryan Newman and the Penske No. 12 Alltel Dodge aren’t where they could or should be. After narrowly defeating Jimmie Johnson for the Rookie of the Year in 2002 and an amazing eight wins in 2003, the No. 12 team has been unable to sustain that level of performance. After 11 wins in 2002-04, Newman has visited victory lane just four times in 2005-2008. Newman had 42 Top 5s in his first three seasons; he has had only 19 in the three and 1/2 years since.

Ryan has also failed to make the Chase in the last three campaigns, with only an outside shot to make it this time around. Since almost everyone makes the playoffs in NASCAR these days, that certainly is a valid reason for disenchantment with one’s team.

Just five short months after winning the Daytona 500, Ryan Newman has announced he will part ways with Penske Racing at the end of the year.

It isn’t surprising that a driver of Newman’s caliber who achieved so much early in his career would grow frustrated with running 15th more often than fifth. Newman stated earlier this year that if the performance at Penske Racing did not improve drastically, he was moving on.

It didn’t. He is. And so here we are. But where do both of them go now?

Ryan Newman has decided to take the plunge and get out at Penske. But unless he takes over the recently vacated No. 20 ride at Joe Gibbs, which is highly improbable given the need to clear a space for Joey Logano, he isn’t likely to end up in a ride that has more of a future than the No. 12. He could end up in the No. 33 for Richard Childress, but Childress hasn’t been running much better than Penske these days. Jeff Burton is where he is by not DNFing very often. He has just a few more Top 10s this season (10) than Newman does (six). Both drivers have an equal amount of wins. And for the moment at least, Casey Mears seems to be the candidate for the new Childress car anyway.

Those two unlikely rides are the best of Newman’s prospects, and only one looks much rosier than the No. 12. Remaining opportunities are even bleaker. Short of the No. 20 and No. 33, the best possibly available ride next year is the No. 1 at DEI. That team hasn’t been setting the world on fire this year, and DEI’s search for funding of late has to foretell difficult times for Teresa and Company.

It seems even less likely that Newman has his eyes set on Dave Blaney’s job in the No. 22. Equally unappealing is the prospect of possibly taking over Reed Sorenson’s No. 41 at Ganassi. I doubt he is that loyal to Dodge.

So we’re left with what the big rumor is.

That Tony Stewart had announced his impending departure from Joe Gibbs Racing just one week before Newman announced his leaving Penske naturally arouses suspicion that Stewart-Haas is where Ryan Newman is likely headed. This is surprising initially when one thinks about how Stewart and Newman have tangled in the past, but in truth, that would be the case no matter who Tony wants on the team. (Joke.) Stewart knows a good driver when he races against one and Ryan Newman is better than his runs are currently showing.

There sure seems to be a lot of buzz going on with Stewart-Haas, especially for a team that currently has one car just barely in the Top 35 and another team that has a revolving door for a driver’s seat and isn’t anywhere close to being guaranteed to race every week. Haas looks more like a team on the verge of bankruptcy than on NASCAR prominence. Why people assume Tony Stewart will turn it around quickly is a difficult question to answer. Greatness in the arena does not automatically translate into greatness in the executive position, as Michael Jordan demonstrated.

That Stewart-Haas will be leasing engines from Hendrick Motorsports doesn’t assure that they will run well—Haas is already running Hendrick engines now. More likely it suggests that they will never be as good as Hendrick. Shouldn’t the notion that a team is leasing its engines elsewhere betray a general problem with the company, instead of as the advantage that it is currently hailed as being? If a team can’t build its own competitive engines, how are they going to outrun the teams that can?

There is one good argument for Newman being the other driver choice for Stewart-Haas. The team needs to get into the Top 35. Stewart will be able to keep one car in races with his championship provisionals, and Rocket Man is well known for his unmatched qualifying skills, having an astonishing 43 poles in 242 starts, which could conceivably help keep the other car in the Top 35 and on the track every week. But Newman’s qualifying feats were in a Penske machine…and his signature qualifying performances have also dropped off with his finishes of late.

Having Stewart and Newman will draw in big-name sponsors. Office Depot, Burger King and Old Spice are already on board. And Chevrolet is rumored to be pouring more resources into the Stewart-Haas program, although I haven’t seen any concrete evidence of that, especially in light of GM’s recently stated desire to cut back on its motorsports expenditures.

Even if Chevy is kicking in some extra resources, big money sponsorship and manufacturer backing don’t automatically translate into results on the track. If Stewart-Haas doesn’t improve significantly and rapidly from the performance they’re accustomed to—and they would surely have to do better than occasionally cracking the Top 35 to keep the bigger sponsors around—Newman may be wishing he stuck around at Penske someday.

Newman isn’t the only one whose thinking is suspect in the split. Given the options Penske has now, they might have made more of an effort to keep the Rocket Man around.

Alltel is going to have to depart soon, so Roger is going to need a driver who can attract a sponsor. Currently Casey Mears and Martin Truex, Jr. are his best bets, and both of them have the credentials for taking over the No. 12, but neither of them have the on-track resume that Newman has. Truex came in third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2006 behind Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer, and has just one win to his credit in 99 starts with DEI. Mears has been even less impressive, also with just one win while driving for one of the premier teams in the sport. It isn’t likely that either driver will equal even Newman’s less than ideal performance this season.

Short of those two, Reed Sorenson is likely to be looking for a ride, but he’s going to need a better second half than two Top 10s to replace Newman. David Reutimann is a talented driver who might be worthy, but if Michael Waltrip knows well enough, he is going to re-sign Reutimann soon. David Stremme? Stremme had three Top 10s in 75 Cup races in the No. 40 for Chip Ganassi. That certainly makes him a questionable replacement for an established veteran with 13 wins.

So truthfully, Penske’s best choice is Martin Truex, Jr., and while Truex is a capable pilot, he also has enough clout to get into a better ride. Penske and DEI are performing at about the same level right now, so Truex might seek out Richard Childress for a team whose future is brighter than DEI’s or Penske’s seems to be. And who knows…with prospects of more funding or even a new owner at DEI, Truex might have some incentive to stay where he is.

So Penske’s options aren’t great either.

It’s hard to imagine that Ryan Newman and Roger Penske, just five months after winning a Daytona 500 together, can look at their options and decide that they can do better than where they are now. Both driver and team may be capable of better than what they are giving each other, but both appear to be mistaken looking elsewhere, at least for the time being.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • Gateway as a track has more character than many on the current Cup circuit, and the racing there is usually terrific. The only problem is that you have to go to St. Louis. The town has a nice ballpark and great baseball history and the Arch is kind of cool, but when your next major attraction is the Bowling Hall of Fame…
  • The rumors are abounding that DEI is for sale again. I don’t hold Teresa in the low regard that many fans do, but I wish she’d make up her mind, because I’m sitting on a column about it and I need a week off.
  • At the beginning of this year, my then-girlfriend (now my wife) became really irritated that she again had to change her favorite driver, because she roots for the M&M’s car. She doesn’t follow racing enough to stay on top of that. I, of course, assured her that she would be glad that M&M’s was moving over to Kyle Busch. So now, when I wake her up after a night race to tell her that her driver won, she only gets a little upset with me.
  • If you think NASCAR is bad with the late starts, you should have watched the All-Star Game. A 15-inning game wouldn’t have been bad if they started the game before midnight. Guess I shouldn’t complain about night races. At least I don’t usually have to go to work the next day.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


©2000 - 2008 Kurt Smith and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

07/18/2008 01:21 AM

In defense of St. Louis, we have the world-class St. Louis Zoo, internationally renowned Missouri Botanical Garden, acclaimed St. Louis Art Museum and numerous other worthy tourist attractions.

FS Kurt
07/18/2008 07:09 AM

That is true missouriracefan…didn’t really mean to offend Missouri folk. The zoo in St. Louis is excellent and it’s free. And I probably didn’t give the ballpark the props it truly deserves, it’s one of the better ones in baseball.

07/18/2008 07:10 AM

I think there are some serious questions to be asked about the Dodge teams in general . Chip , Roger , Ray , all proven winners , but except for the recent couple of explosive runs by the 9 car ( which seem to have returned back to mid-pack again ) and the Newman win at Daytona , the Dodge teams seemingly aren’t capable of falling out of a tree . The Dodge just doesn’t seem to be competitive .
As a new home , Newman could do far worse than the Stewart Haas team . The team is owned by a very large and successfull corporation . Even without all of the cash about to enter the team , they were never lacking for money . What they have been missing is key personnel , which Tony will hire , and really top flight drivers , which Tony will also provide .
Think of the Haas team this way . If you took all of the current Gibbs drivers and crew chiefs out of their respective teams and replaced them with drivers and crew chiefs from the current Haas team , what do you think would happen to the performance of Gibbs . If you put the Gibbs team members into Haas , with the HMS cars and engines , you think you might see a huge improvement very quickly ?

07/18/2008 10:15 AM

I think Ryan is seeing that Haas has alot of potential now that Tony is going to be over there. Penske is just kind of at a standstill right now and have been for some time now. I actually think SHR will be outrunning penske next year.

07/18/2008 02:01 PM

“The Dodge just doesn’t seem to be competitive.” This is sort of true. Look at the GEM performances this year. They started the year knowing they were behind, by alot, engineering the CoT. They are still behind, but alot closer. You can see now that the more practice they get, the better their cars.

GEM has settled into a bit of a pattern (not a rut) since May. If the engineers at the shop “guess correctly” the cars unload fast and are competitive. If they guess wrong, they are playing catch-up to the top teams all weekend, and usually get caught up about halfway through the race itself…and will improve from there if possible. It has alot to do with not nearly as much R&D as the top teams had done last year, hence alot less information on the car.

Chicago I suspected would be a “slow week” for GEM (and it was) because of no test session there, and no prior CoT race at the track. When GEM has had a test session to go on, they’ve been fast. (Pocono, Charlotte come to mind!)

I realize this is sort of off the edge of the earth, topic-wise, sorry!

Aside from the new Dodge engine coming this fall, I hope the teams start working together better, sharing engineering…they’re slow on the uptake. But, as more becomes known about the CoT, the closer Dodge gets.

07/18/2008 02:19 PM

Everyone’s forgetting something else Tony and Ryan have in common.

They’re leaving a team that employs a Busch as a driver.

Jack Roush and Rick Hendrick, whose teams have one 9 of the last 15 titles and can thus be considered pretty astute owners, both fired a Busch brother and one got fired while in the chase as the defending champion.

If you ask me, they’re cancers to a team. Penske’s been tanking since Kurt arrived. Give Kyle time and Gibbs will to the same.

Both Tony and Ryan got out while the getting was good.

07/18/2008 03:10 PM

The #14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy of Stewarts will run very well next year, edging Newmans #4 Burger King entry.

07/18/2008 04:47 PM

Both Chip, & The Captain, have,& are having,great success in other forms of racing. Neither has had the type of success that they are used to in NA$CAR. Both have to be considered second tier teams. Could it be that being a successful Cup owner, is a full time job?

Robert Eastman
07/18/2008 06:39 PM

Because I’m a JGR fan, I thought Tony was crazy to leave. Then I saw the Windshear web-site and realized that it is a SMART move. Haas certainly has the resources, all they need are the right people. Everyone understands Tony will not tolerate second rate anything and he certainly knows what it takes to win. Like Red Bull Racing, when the right people show up at Haas, an astounding transformation will occur, Tony will look like a genious and his personal net worth will sky-rocket!
Tony’s USAC and WOO efforts prove his ability to field Championship teams.
Chevrolet, publicly humiliated by JGR’s move to Toyota, will do everything possible to insure the success of Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas, as a “pay-back!”
Ryan Newman will look brilliant for jumping the Captain’s ship and setting sail with Stewart-Haas!

07/18/2008 07:21 PM

I alot of really weak points/caomparisons. you can do better then this!

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