2007 Ride: No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge
2007 Primary Sponsor: Alltel
2007 Owner: Roger Penske
2007 Crew Chief: Mike Nelson
Stats: 36 races, zero wins, seven top fives, 15 top 10s, five poles, 13th in points.
High Point: Once again, it was qualifying up front. After an off year in 2006, adding another five pole-qualifying efforts to his resume certainly had to be a satisfying personal achievement for the man they call “Flyin’ Ryan.” Newman has now tallied an incredible 42 top spots in his short 224-race NASCAR Cup career. A second-place finish at Martinsville in the sixth race of the Chase was no doubt gratifying as well, as Newman showed strength during the latter part of the race season even though he missed the Chase for the Nextel Cup for the second season in a row.
In fact, with four top-five and six top-10 finishes during the 10-race playoff, the late season performance caused Newman to win the “Best of the Rest” award. Ending the season 13th in points, Newman was highest of all drivers not involved in the Chase playoff; in the process, he motored his way by such name drivers as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle. Though not in contention to win the championship, Newman was able to, for the most part, stay door handle to door handle with those that were.
Low Point: Finishing the “regular season” in 14th place and becoming ineligible to compete in the Chase had to be heartbreaking for the 29-year-old Newman. As with fellow “just-missed-the-playoffs” driver Earnhardt Jr., engine problems were the reason why Newman fell short; he had three failures during the regular season, with a 39th-place DNF at Fontana officially killing his chance at the playoffs last September.
Summary: Newman’s season with Penske started off rough, but improved throughout the course of the year as chemistry with new crew chief Mike Nelson came together. Still, they weren’t able to stop the dreaded DNF; nine of them tied Newman’s career low and pretty much doomed him to another subpar season. After two straight years of missing the playoffs, Newman also had a hard pill to swallow as teammate Kurt Busch not only qualified for the Chase, but finished eighth in points with two wins to his credit. Unfortunately, the elusive win never visited the No. 12 bunch, although it came close on several occasions; and clearly, that’s got to be leaving this one-time championship contender frustrated. After four consecutive top-10 points finishes during Newman’s first four complete Cup seasons, he has now struggled to 18th and 13th the last two years, respectively.
2008 Outlook: In a critical year for Newman – his contract expires the end of this season – it looks like the pieces are in place for him to succeed. The major change occurs in the shop; experienced Penske crew chief Roy McCauley will take over control of the team next season from Mike Nelson. However, expect a seamless transition; McCauley was running the successful No. 2 program at Penske before being forced to take a leave of absence due to an illness with his wife.
Based on Newman’s season-ending performance improvement, and assuming that Penske resolves their engine woes, don’t be surprised to see the No. 12 Dodge solidly in the Chase in 2008.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: D
2007 Grade: C
Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from AJ Allmendinger to JJ Yeley.