Kevin Rutherford and Mark Howell · Wednesday August 7, 2013
Welcome back to Side By Side. There are always two sides to every story, and we’re going to bring them both, right here, every week. Two of our staff writers will face off on an important racing question … feel free to tell us what you think in the weekly poll, and also in the comments section below!
This Week’s Question: After a win at Indianapolis and a top 5 at Pocono, Ryan Newman is on a hot streak, but will it be enough to land him a ride with a top Cup team for 2014?
Kevin Rutherford, Assistant Editor: Newman’s Career Speaks For Itself
I want you to do something for me. It’ll only take a second. If you’re reading this from a computer, or if you have other means to do so, check today’s date. What is it?
If you’re reading this around the same time as when this article was posted, you’ll find that it’s early August (Aug. 7, to be exact, if you’re reading on the day it went live). There are well over three months to go in the 2013 season, let alone basically half a year before 2014 begins.
I’m sorry, but I guess I’m not seeing how, no matter what Ryan Newman’s done these past few weeks and what he ends up doing through November, he’s not going to find a high-caliber ride for 2014.
Consider to start that Newman, despite gaining the majority of his series wins before 2005, is still regarded as one of the sport’s higher quality drivers, an asset that many would, I’ll bet, take before any other free or potentially free agent for the 2014 season. He’s never been a major championship contender all the way to season’s end, but he’s won once in each of the last four seasons. That’s not necessarily an easy feat to accomplish.
While Newman doesn’t necessarily come off as a sponsor’s dream, he does have fairly dedicated backing at this moment; Outback Steakhouse and Quicken Loans in particular have promoted events that honor fans when the Indiana native finishes in the top 10 or top 5, respectively, of a race.
That’s important to point out, because when Outback Steakhouse announces that it’s giving a free Bloomin’ Onion on the Monday after a Newman top 10, or when Quicken Loans pays five fans’ mortgage payments when he gets a top-5 finish, the promotions have the potential of not only exposing NASCAR to more fans, but also cementing Newman as a driver for whom to root, because sometimes you get cool stuff out of doing so.
Let’s face it: money talks in NASCAR these days, and the fact that Newman has found sponsors interested in backing his NASCAR efforts is encouraging for his future in the sport. Scores of NASCAR owners — Richard Childress and Richard Petty, for instance — have explained that the possibility of adding another car to their stable or keeping another running is contingent on whether sponsorship can be found.
So, really, there’s rarely a question of whether or not there’s enough higher-end rides available, because oftentimes one can be created simply by the acquisition of sponsorship. This season, Newman has had a primary sponsor on the hood of his No. 39 for 15 of the first 21 races, with the other six covered by Haas Automation (or, basically, the team). Time will tell which of those sponsors would actually follow Newman wherever he goes, but if even just one stays with him, that’s still a few races paid for.
His recent results can only help. Winning the Brickyard is a prestigious happening indeed, and his fourth-place showing at Pocono continued to showcase signs of life from the NASCAR veteran. But even if he hadn’t won, I’m sure Newman would have still been a part of the conversation for 2014 rides (Childress being one particular rumor). He’s an unmistakable talent, and certainly doesn’t yet seem past his prime.
Plus, again, there’s still so much time left in the season and before the start of 2014. I’m guessing Ryan Newman isn’t sweating, and we shouldn’t be either for a few months longer. If he doesn’t get a ride with a good team by, say, the end of the season, that’s when the story will get interesting.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Too Little, Too Late
Despite his successes over the past two weeks – a win at Indianapolis and a top 5 at Pocono – Ryan Newman will be hard-pressed to snag a ride with a top team for 2014. Top-tier teams expect consistency, but two consecutive good weeks out of 21 races does not make for an attractive future hire. Newman has notched ten top-10 Sprint Cup finishes so far in 2013, which gives him a pretty decent average overall of 48%, but his five DNF’s for the year (so far) speaks volumes about the roller-coaster season he’s experienced. A top 5 at Daytona one week followed by a 40th-place finish at Phoenix the next is the kind of performance that tends to scare well-financed car owners away.
But perhaps the more relevant question is this: what qualities do we use to define a “top” team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series? Is the inconsistency of the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet solely Ryan Newman’s fault? Has a lackluster 2013 prior to the Brickyard 400 – those up-and-down performances this year that are the stuff of a new attraction at Six Flags or King’s Dominion – been entirely because of Newman, or have there been other dark forces at work?
How much of Newman’s pre-and-early season was affected by a struggle to secure sponsorship? It takes an ocean freighter full of Bloomin’ Onions, air filters, and home mortgages to properly finance a Sprint Cup operation, and that was needed over and above the resources already provided through “Rocketman’s” association with SHR. Sponsors expect four weeks’ worth of competitive consistency, not four weeks’ worth of 32nd -10th -6th -36th -place finishes (from Talladega through Dover). Add two wrecks to those four weeks of races (at Talladega and Dover, respectively), and Newman’s fortunes look even more bleak.
Not that poor finishes, wrecks, and overall inconsistency signals a death knell for a Sprint Cup team. On the contrary. While Ryan Newman was given a pink slip for 2014, his newest teammate at Stewart-Haas (she who drives the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet) seems to be enjoying a season of relative job security.
Reducing this situation, however, to a high-banked “battle of the sexes” is oversimplifying the issue; money doesn’t just talk in NASCAR, it screams loudly and often, and it’s the difference between a driver getting an opportunity or getting the boot. Solid sponsorship of a popular (yet sub-top-ten) driver trumps keeping a struggling team on life support.
Kyle Petty might believe that Danica Patrick isn’t a “real” race car driver, but at least she’s got a ride for 2014. That’s more than Ryan Newman can say right now.
Don’t get me wrong; I sincerely hope Ryan Newman secures a full-time gig with a stable Sprint Cup team next year. Newman is a talented driver who’s capable of a polished and professional presence before fans and the media (something provided by his bachelors’ degree in engineering from Purdue University). Very few in this business can wring a fast lap out of a race car like Newman, as demonstrated by his penchant for winning pole positions.
For example, between the years of 2003 and 2005, “Rocketman” was the fastest qualifier every 3.8 races (28 pole positions in 108 events). Not that starting up front really makes that much of a difference, but it’s a pretty significant talent, especially if you want your race team to get some ink on Saturday’s sports page.
Unfortunately, winning pole positions isn’t quite enough to endear yourself to a struggling race team. The same can be said for an occasional burst of greatness that enables a driver to string together a handful of decent finishes. Not that those decent finishes are ignored, but they can be easily overshadowed when scattered amongst finishes of 23rd, 35th, and 30th (as Newman had during a three-race stretch at Pocono, Michigan, and Sonoma earlier this season).
Is there a “top” team looking to hire Ryan Newman based on his recent two weeks of success? I sure hope so, but I’m thinking his solid performances at Indianapolis and Pocono were too little, too late.
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