Ryan Newman’s 2018 season was nothing special. And nothing special, in the end, simply wasn’t good enough to keep him at Richard Childress Racing for 2019 and bey0nd.
In his fifth year behind the wheel of the No. 31 Chevrolet, Newman did not visit Victory Lane in 2018 and also missed the playoffs. While that might sound bad, he hasn’t visited Victory Lane multiple times in a season since 2004. In the intervening 14 years, he’s won just seven races. It’s never been more than one per year while Newman has also gone winless seven times. His average finish this season (17.2) was his worst since 2008 when running for Roger Penske. Newman does finish races, running at the end in 33 of the 36 races. He also finished on the lead lap in 21. But even that lead-lap total was his worst in a decade, signs of continued struggles at RCR.
Newman hasn’t won a pole since 2013, which used to be his forte. Add in that playoff miss, his second in the last three years and it feels like “Rocket Man” is on the decline.
But the 41-year-old, now one of the sport’s elder statesmen still has one quality stat. Newman has not missed a race in 612 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts (since November 2001). He’ll look to continue that streak in 2019 with his new ride.
The year started well for Newman with an eighth-place run at the Daytona 500 and qualifying outside the front row at Atlanta. A 22nd-place run there was disappointing, but back-to-back runs of 11th at Las Vegas and Phoenix had him sitting 13th in points. Unfortunately, the next three races saw him come home 21st, 19th and 27th. A precipitous drop in the standings had begun, one from which this RCR outfit would not recover.
It is hard to say, seven races into the season, that you’re going to have to win to make the playoffs. But that quickly became apparent for Newman. A top-10 run at Bristol looked promising. But that was followed by a crash at Richmond and a disappointing 37th-place result. He bounced back with a ninth-place finish at Talladega only to hit a horrible slump of three straight races in the 30s. That was followed by three runs in the 20s, a 15th and an eighth as the series reached the midway point at Daytona.
Kentucky saw another finish in the 20s before back-to-back top 10s at Loudon and Pocono with a sixth, his best race of the year, and an eighth. Watkins Glen was the first of four finishes in the teens before wrapping up the regular season with a 10th place in his home state of Indiana. Unfortunately, none of those runs came even close to Victory Lane for Newman. He led just 57 laps on the year and only 17 in the final 22 regular season races.
The playoffs were a little better for Newman, even though he was out of title contention. Another top 10 at Vegas started his postseason effort before a 15th at Richmond and an 11th on the Roval. Dover saw him come home in 17th before his hopes of four top 10s on the plate tracks were dashed with a 25th at Talladega. Newman rebounded with a 15th at Kansas and a eighth-place effort at Martinsville. At Texas, Newman managed an 18th before an 11th at Phoenix and a respectable 15th at Homestead.
Compared to RCR teammate Austin Dillon, Newman was right in the same arena. His average finish was actually better even though Dillon made the playoffs. Dillon did have the Daytona 500 win and another top five but Newman had one more top 10. His average start (15.4) was more than three positions better than Dillon’s as well.
But those stats left both owner and driver feeling like they needed to head in different directions. As 2019 looms, it is going to be a new chapter for Newman as he is packing up his helmet bag and moving over to the Concord Airport to drive for Roush Fenway Racing. Newman will be full-time in the iconic No. 6, the flagship of the RFR organization. Newman will be taking over for Trevor Bayne and Matt Kenseth, who split the ride in 2018.
But the move is going to be a challenge, for sure, for the grizzled veteran. He’ll attempt to try and milk some quality results from a ride that has been struggling for several years. RFR missed the playoffs last season with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and was a step behind the curve despite a banner year for Ford. The automaker won the manufacturer’s title and the driver’s title with Joey Logano, posting their best year in the sport in over a decade.
Now, RFR and the other Ford teams are switching to the Mustang body in 2019 and will be handling those challenges as best they can. Newman hopes, at age 41, that he can find a second wind with the organization. He signed a three-year deal that’s expected to be his last full-time NASCAR contract.
36 starts, zero wins, zero top fives, nine top 10s, 0 poles
Best Finish: Sixth – Loudon
Points Standings: 17th
Season Grade: C.