2009 Ride: No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
2009 Primary Sponsors: U.S. Army, Haas Automation
2009 Car Owner: Tony Stewart
2009 Crew Chief: Tony Gibson
Stats: 36 Starts, 0 Wins, 5 Top 5s, 15 Top 10s, 1 DNF, 9th in points.
Best Finish: 2nd, Lowe’s (May).
Average Finish: 14.7.
High Point: Following a ghastly opening month to the season, Newman and the No. 39 SHR team went on a tear from late March through early June. In that 10-race span, Newman and crew recorded eight runs of eighth or better, averaging a seventh-place finish while never dipping lower than 16th. The white-hot run through the late spring and early summer witnessed Newman jump from 32nd to fourth in the point standings — all with a team that struggled to simply qualify for races in 2008.
The streak hit its crescendo in May, when the 31-year-old South Bend, Ind., native won the pole and finished second at the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend, a performance that was preceded by runs of third (Talladega), fourth (Richmond), and fourth (Darlington).
Low Point: For a team that won two poles, notched 15 top 10s, and made the Chase, there were a couple deep valleys along the way. The aforementioned slow start is understandable for a driver and team in their first year working together. However, runs of 36th, 28th, 25th, and 22nd (at least they were headed in the right direction) to start the season paled in comparison to teammate/boss Tony Stewart, who ripped off three eighth-place showings in the same span.
The other two low points that cannot be ignored but must be mentioned were a pair of scary crashes at Talladega. Newman was struck on the hood and windshield by an airborne Carl Edwards in the first incident while running fourth on the final lap (and then actually advanced his finishing position to third in the final results). But the second wreck was even more harrowing, and resulted in Newman’s only DNF when he somersaulted entering Turn 3 in November. After the car completed its mandatory number of Talladega Barrel Rolls, Newman was trapped, upside down, for a number of minutes until the safety crew could flip the car over and extricate the driver from its crushed remains. An understated, yet direct message to NASCAR followed on national television, in which Newman once again bemoaned restrictor plate racing and, specifically, the sport’s distrust of today’s drivers.
Summary: Newman was pegged to steer Stewart-Haas Racing’s “new” No. 39 team following a successful stint gone stale in Roger Penske’s No. 12 machine. The 2008 Daytona 500 winner and his crew — the former hands for DEI’s No. 8 car led by Tony Gibson — took a month to get acclimated, but once on the same page, they hit their stride. The aforementioned Spring surge propelled them well into the top 12 in points, setting them up for what looked like a cakewalk into the playoffs. But just when the Chase appeared to be on lockdown, a summer swoon of nine races with just one top 10 finish dropped them to as low as ninth in points following the August Michigan event — leaving them vulnerable to some hard-charging drivers gaining fast.
But three consecutive top 10s to polish off the regular season secured Newman’s playoff bid, and two more to start the Chase actually launched him into the fringes of title contention. However, his flirtation with the top of the standings was short-lived, as an average finish of 16th over the next three events — coupled with ultra-consistent showings from quasi-teammates Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin — finally shifted the team’s focus into 2010 test mode.
The lack of a win is what undoubtedly will stick in this team’s craw throughout the offseason. While Newman’s sister team exploded for four victories, with an All-Star triumph to boot, the No. 39 bunch could only muster five top-5 showings and 214 laps led. They were, in short, consistent but not consistently great … and certainly not title-worthy.
2009 Team Ranking: 2nd. Stewart’s No. 14 team outshined Newman’s relocated band of Army brothers; but, to be fair, a Chase berth and the 15 top 10s would likely net him a second-place ranking on most four-car outfits this year.
Off Track News: Ryan and his wife, Krissie, continue to educate people on the importance of conservation and pet adoption through the Ryan Newman Foundation, a charity which also offers college scholarships to students interested in careers in auto racing. And as you read this, Newman is most likely on a bass boat, crankin’ a deep diver, undeterred by the cold December weather. May I suggest the Bass Pro XPS Lazer Eye Nitro Extreme Deep Diver, Ryan?
2010 Outlook: Newman is under contract with SHR through the 2011 season, but sponsorship from the US Army will adorn the No. 39 Chevy for only 15 races (down from 23 in ’09). Funding from Tornados Foods for five races eases the burden a bit, but 16 primary slots remain, and Haas Automation’s logo on the hood isn’t benefiting the bottom line. It has been speculated that Bass Pro Shops is interested in making the jump from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to the No. 39 in 2011, but it’s also expected that a new teammate — if not two — will come over as well, making the fight for financing that much tougher within SHR.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here because, let’s face it, a team this caliber with such strong Hendrick ties most likely will not go hungry. So from a performance standpoint, the future looks bright. A win is expected, although multiple W’s — as well as a boost in consistency — are a must if he hopes to contend for the championship. Is this bunch capable of stepping up and winning a title? Not yet… but multiple wins are certainly not out of the question.
2006 Frontstretch.com Grade: D.
2007 Grade: C.
2008 Grade: D.
2009 Grade: B+.
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