NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Is Ryan Newman Hall of Fame Worthy?

As we await the next round of NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees, it’s natural to look to the current active drivers who are nearing retirement age (for drivers not named Harry Gant or Mark Martin) and wonder who might be eligible for future nomination.

Having made 700 career starts this past Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Ryan Newman may soon be under consideration for inclusion. Does the body of work of the Rocket Man make him worth of donning the blue blazer? This week, Vito Pugliese and Amy Henderson go head-to-head to debate this topic in 2-Headed Monster.

Keystone Wins Means Good Enough to Get In

Newman’s career in the Cup Series got off to a stellar start. His rookie season of 2002 saw him go head-to-head with eventual seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson – and win Rookie of the Year (ROTY) honors. Winning a race, six poles and finishing sixth in points was definitely cause for celebration and expectation of future success. It also was the second time in NASCAR history a rookie won NASCAR’s All-Star race following Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win in 2000. He did it the hard way too, winning the Open event to transfer and starting at the rear to win the main event.

2003 saw eight wins and 11 pole positions – cementing his legacy as the driver you had to outlast in the days of wide-open, single-car qualifying, holding on for dear life for two laps. A pair of wins and eight poles in 2004 was a bit of a dip in performance, but a seventh-place points finish still had him solidly in the top 10.

From there, his performance did wane a bit. One win in 2005 was followed by a pair of winless seasons, then in 2008 he won the biggest race of his career – the 2008 Daytona 500. One of only a handful of races where they refer to you as the “champion” – not just the winner – and the Super Bowl of our sport – this alone should be worthy of Hall of Fame inclusion. If you win the single most important race in a series, then you should have a spot in its building that pays homage to its greatest participants. Whenever Dale Earnhardt is profiled, what win do they show? What about Dale Jr., Davey Allison, or Bill Elliott? The Daytona 500.

Newman also managed to win the 2013 Brickyard 400, ironically a couple of weeks after he learned he wouldn’t be back at Stewart-Haas Racing the following season. He moved to Richard Childress Racing, taking over the reins of the No. 31 Chevrolet in the 2014 season. While the stats will show he finished second in points, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

On a restart with three laps to go, eventual champion Kevin Harvick was leading, with Newman running second. It would have been really easy for Newman to wash up and deposit Harvick in the wall and win the title – but he didn’t. Two laps from a title, the driver who has earned a reputation of being the hardest one to pass under any circumstances, did not pull what has become accepted in the form of a bump-and-run – or dump-and-run in many circumstances.

And lest it go unmentioned, there was last year’s Daytona 500 accident. A harrowing scene played out in prime time, where millions of people thought they had seen a man lose his life in violent, graphic accident, yards from winning his second Great American Race. Newman survived, walking out of the hospital a few days later with his daughters in hand. Each some of the most iconic images in the history of NASCAR, and a story that garnered national attention.

There’s a misconception that the Hall of Fame is only for members who have won more than 50 races or multiple championships. If that was the case, we’d have a pretty thin class right now and not a whole lot of activity. It’s the Hall of Fame, not statistics, and given his role in the early 2000s as NASCAR’s next generation of young sub-30 year old stars, Newman’s accomplishments still get him in on his own merits. – Vito Pugliese

The Bar Has to Be Higher

Twenty years with 18 wins and 51 poles to date, plus Rookie of the Year honors (beating out Jimmie Johnson, no less) make up quite a NASCAR Cup Series career. After all, fewer than 200 drivers have won even one race, let alone score double-digit victories.

It’s an impressive career, but not a Hall of Fame one.

Ryan Newman burst onto the NASCAR scene in 2000, making his first Cup start before he ran a race in any other NASCAR national series. He’s one of the only drivers left who can boast he raced against Dale Earnhardt, if only once.

In his 2003 sophomore season, Newman won eight times and started 11 races on the pole. Had he matched that torrid pace throughout his career, we’d be having a different discussion altogether. But while he would win twice in 2004, he’s never visited victory lane more than once a year since, and averages just under a win a year for the course of his career. His last victory was the spring race at Phoenix in 2017.

He’s also responsible for a safety innovation in the form of a roll bar that ended up saving his own life in a horrific Daytona 500 crash.

He has been, for most of his career to date, a very solid driver. But solid isn’t Hall of Fame worthy.

This isn’t anything against Newman, specifically. It’s about where we want the bar to be that separates the best of all time from … well, from the solid.

Newman has been solid. At 18 wins, he matches Geoffrey Bodine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant and Kasey Kahne. All of whom, without Cup titles, have had careers that are — you guessed it — solid.

Are there drivers in the Hall with fewer wins? Yes: Curtis Turner, Cotton Owens, Red Byron and Alan Kulwicki have their spots. But you can’t compare them with Newman. Byron, Turner and Owens were pioneers of the sport; Kulwicki’s 1992 title as an independent owner sets him apart.

Drivers in the Hall with 19 wins include Davey Allison, whose career, like Kulwicki’s, was cut short by his untimely death, so there is some projection involved. Buddy Baker’s contributions outside the car as a broadcaster add to his credentials.

Newman has no extenuating circumstances. Other than that great 2003 season, he’s not a standout in an era that’s featured the likes of Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Johnson. And while each should be judged by the Hall of Fame panel on his own merits, it’s clear that Newman isn’t among the very best of his era.

The so-called Newman Bar is a major safety feature, but it doesn’t put Newman over the top.

The bar for Hall of Fame induction needs to be a high one, and it should not drop any lower. Twenty to 25 wins without a title is a grey area. Under 20 wins for a primarily Cup driver needs extenuating circumstances, pioneer status or multiple titles. Newman has none of those things, nor does he have a storied career in another NASCAR series that would put him in regardless of Cup numbers.

He just falls short. He falls short with some big names in Bodine, Bonnett, Gant and Kahne. They all have careers to be proud of.  They just aren’t Hall of Fame material, because the bar has to stop somewhere, and it should be higher than averaging a win a year or so without a championship.

They were solid. And that’s something to hang a helmet on. – Amy Henderson

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22 Comments
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Mr Yeppers

So according to Vito, Michael McDowell needs to start working on his HOF speech. A Daytona 500 win won’t even guarantee you a spot in the chase, much less a HOF spot. Although to McDowells credit, he has done a pretty good job of finishing higher this year and staying up in the points. But if there are more than 16 winners someone will be out.

WJW Motorsports

I say “no” but NASCAR’s made the 500 into the Super Bowl of their sport. He’ll get in.

DoninAjax

“Having made 700 career starts this past Sunday at Kansas Speedway”

Wow! 700 starts at one track in one day! That’s a HOF number.

Joshua W Farmer

700th career start. Don’t be a fool.

Peppa W Fisherperson

Yes. Clearly says 700 career starts at Kansas Speedway. Why do you have to attack someone’s accomplishments? Have you run 700 races at Kansas Speedway?
I’ll bet you haven’t run 700 races anywhere. WHo’s the fool here?

Joshua W Farmer

You have no clue what I’ve done. This is not the AP and I understood what he was saying, And yes, I have 765 starts in karts. Don’t call out a quality website Mr. Fairweather Fan.

Peppa W Fisherperson

Wait….. is this THE Joshua W Farmer?? The great American karting ace of the 1930’s?!
OMG!!
DUDE, you have, like 765 starts! Nevermind Norman or whatever that Nascar dude is. You, Mr. Farmer, should be in a Hall of Fame!
It is, indeed, an honor, Sir.

Just as aside, this is my 700th troll. So, thank you. Here’s to the 700 club. (…not THAT 700 Club…devils)

Jake

Lol at that logic. You aren’t a chef so you can never criticize any restaurant ever.

I doubt you’re an actor or director, so you cannot have any opinion on a movie either.

Matty

His stats fall off a cliff from the time he left Penske. On the other hand they did let Dale Jr. in the Hall so average is now acceptable. More deserving racer(s)? Rene Charland for starts…..Matty

WJW Motorsports

I’m not a Jr. apologist but I am a realist. Simple truth was Jr. was headed to the Hall on name alone. That said – I bet we could easily name hundreds of drivers and many thousands of fans who would trade just about anything to have been as “average” as he was on the track.

Jake

No.

There, saved you about 1,000 words.

Jo

The answer is no. Winning the Daytona 500 in the plate/spacer era is virtually meaningless. I guess Derrick Cope qualifies as well as Newman.

What’s the point of a HOF if everybody gets in? Having a “solid record” should not be enough. It should require an outstanding record and many of those already in did not have that. Being elected these days is completely meaningless.

Joshua W Farmer

McDowell doesn’t need to be in the HOF–he hasn’t done even half of what Newman has done. Bobby Labonte is in the HOF with the same amount of wins and 3 times less poles and Jr only had 26 wins and never finished 2nd in the points. Newman doesn’t need to retire now.

JT

Considering the NASCAR HOF has cut down from putting just 3 per year, rather than 5, I’d say that Newman’s chances of induction are pretty slim.

From the list of non-championship winning drivers, I’d put Carl Edwards (38 wins), Ricky Rudd (23 wins), Jeff Burton (21 wins), Kasey Kahne (18 wins), Harry Gant (18 wins), Neil Bonnett (18 wins) and Geoff Bodine (18 wins) in the HOF, too. Then in the next few years Denny Hamlin (44 wins-so far, but may yet win a Cup) will be retiring. Then the former champions, Kevin Harvick (58 wins, so far), Brad K. (35 wins, so far), Kurt Busch (32 wins, so far), Martin Truex Jr. (29 wins, so far) should be retiring in the near future. So I think Newman will be in the back of a pretty long line to get in the HOF.

Echo

NOT even close, NO. Jimmie won 3 races to Ryan’s 1 and finished 5th to Ryan’s 6th in THEIR rookie year. Ryan won poles, so what. Ryan won rookie of the year, why ! Bobby won a championship and had a second place. Come on, even Austin Dillon won the 500, of course he had to run over Aric to do it. Have you been drinking Vito !

Bob Brown

When you look at what Bodine did in a modified and bringing things like power steering he should be miles ahead of Newman to get in. I just don’t think Newman clears the current bar and with the crop of retirees coming he just doesn’t belong. Great career, just not HoF

babydufus

what?
there’s a nascar hall of fame?
really? answer:yes
1. why? answer:$
2. who cares? answer: almost no one
3. does any one ever go? answer see #2

Drew Thomas

How go look at 700 cup career starts, especially in modern day. It doesn’t happen. Every driver that has as many or more starts than newman is in or will be in hall. That alone gets him in. Nobody talks about how Stewart’s championship in 10 was bc of Newman’s help and setups. Newman would have won championship in 02 if it was today’s points. And if Newman was Givin a opportunity to drive the top car for a top team he would have more wins and a championship. At Penske he was behind Wallace, than Busche, at Stewart Haas he was behind Tony (Ryan is a big a part of where that team is today as anyone), at Childress (2nd tier team) he was behind Dillon, he’s finally in the top car at Roushe, but we all know Roushe is nothing compared to what they used to be. Ryan Newman is the last of a breed of racer that this sport will never see again, he can wrench on his car and than win with it.

Rich

Personally think Gant or Bonnet would be my choice over Newman.

Ken

NASCAR.. nap Any Sunday cars are racing

Bill B

I like Ryan but the only reason he should be considered is because of some of the other dubious choices they’ve already made.

Jim

Why is Jr in if Newman isn’t good enough? Wrong last name

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