Are we watching Ryan Newman’s latest (cup) races?
There are plenty of silly season dominoes yet to fall before the start of the 2022 NASCAR season, and perhaps the best known of these is Ryan Newman’s status.
I mean, who else is approaching it? Technically, Christopher Bell’s plans for 2022 haven’t been announced, but no one seems to be expecting anything other than extra time for the 2021 playoff contender at Joe Gibbs Racing. Then there’s Matt DiBenedetto, whose situation has certainly made headlines and discussions online, but still isn’t claiming a victory in a NASCAR National Series. Ryan Preece, Michael McDowell’s potential move based on what’s to come at Front Row Motorsports – intriguing, yes, but the key words here are ‘high profile’.
And Newman certainly has been for much of his career. Ever since exploding onto the scene with a start in 10th place in his very first NASCAR Cup Series race – even before racing a single Xfinity or Camping World Truck Series event – the Indianan has been a mainstay of the highest levels of NASCAR, clinging to 18 Cup wins and hundreds of top five and top 10 along the way, plus a close title in 2014.
Newman’s two top five and five top 10s in 2021 are not exceptional, but in the context (as in the case of the now intermediate Roush Fenway Racing), they would likely be at least good enough for another season in No. 6 in most cases.
Except that the status quo is changing. Earlier this year, Brad Keselowski bought RFR, announcing with the investment that it would be in No.6 in 2022.
While RFR operates two charters, a switch to his second car is not in the cards for Newman, as teammate Chris Buescher will return in 2022 in No.17. Performance-wise, Newman could have been a downgrade. in any event; although he has a top five more than Buescher this year, Buescher tops him in the top 10 (seven) and has an average of almost five positions higher.
Expansion? Third car? Maybe a decade ago, but nowadays charters are the currency that spawns Cup teams, and the market is just a little crowded. Stranger things have happened, but there has been little to no charter chatter involving RFR entering the offseason, which likely indicates that the option is not even on the table.
Which begs the question: When the series visits Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix Raceway the next two weekends, is an undercurrent of a storyline the possibility that Newman could compete in his final Cup races. ? Maybe his last two?
Keep in mind that Newman will be 44 in December; many of his peers who arrived around this time have since retired, with Kevin Harvick being the main (albeit significant) outlier. He hasn’t visited the Victory Lane since 2017 in Phoenix, while still with Richard Childress Racing. He also took center stage in one of the most violent NASCAR wrecks in recent memory at the 2020 Daytona 500, one that saw him get out of a car for several races (a break that would have been even more important. if NASCAR had not interrupted its season for more than two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Newman has long been classified as a rough runner, the type who drives virtually every lap as he fights for the lead, someone who will make it notoriously difficult to pass him, even if he’s not on the lap. of head. With that mentality, one would imagine he is the type who prefers to run as long as he can, despite obstacles such as the Daytona International Speedway crash in 2020.
It also doesn’t give off the vibe of someone who would be willing to use lesser equipment to do so. Since his debut in 2000, Newman has always been in elite or once elite, always well-funded racing cars from Team Penske and its affiliates at Stewart-Haas Racing and more recently RCR and RFR. If he has to drop below RFR in terms of prestige, chances are he’ll be even further back on the winning lane than he typically has been in No.6.
We probably will. It’s important to consider the possibility that the next Next Gen car will level the playing field a bit more and allow some of the midpack organizations to fight for the top 10 even more than they have in recent years. (see: FRM and Spire Motorsports are starting to appear in the top half of the pack outside of superspeedways, something that was a rarity years ago). After all, some drivers and teams have suggested as a result of recent Next Gen testing that the FRMs and Spiers of the world could become players like they never have been.
But you have to wonder if Newman would be willing to take that chance – to move on, say, to FRM or Rick Ware Racing. It’s possible that the cap for those teams – even with a Next Gen boost – will fall below what he’s capable of currently in No.6.
With testing and qualifying likely to return in 2022, the option of a third RFR car, albeit part-time, has also been launched. Given the limitations reported on the exchange that un-chartered teams can earn, sponsorship would be a need – although it’s something Newman never really struggled for.
I think that’s what he’s going to do, actually; RFR would have already offered him such a configuration, and he did not say outright: “no, I’m fine”. Which is a roundabout way of saying no, Martinsville and Phoenix won’t be Newman’s last races. At a minimum, he will catch up on a part-time basis with RFR.
But that’s not where my theory ends.
Okay so, do you remember the early days of the Truck series? When in the early 2000s, you might see old Cup guys diving in to try their hand at a full truck schedule and championship? I’m talking about drivers like Bobby Hamilton, Ted Musgrave and Johnny Benson, who have all even won titles. Ricky Craven too. Steve Park. Jimmy Spencer. The list goes on.
It’s not so much of a thing these days. Johnny Sauter is arguably the only rider out there who has tasted success in the senior series and whose career in the series is probably over. The rest of the 2021 roster is largely made up of newcomers, as well as veterans like Matt Crafton and Grant Enfinger who have likely reached their maximum potential.
Would Newman be resistant to a shorter Cup race but leading in Trucks? It may not be too much. While he was once a slightly more common presence in Xfinity, Newman has just seven truck starts under his belt since 2008, and he’s finished in the top five in six of those seven races, including one victory. The driving style of the series matches his – uncompromising, often racing for every bit of room on the track on every lap.
He has never won a NASCAR championship. Maybe that changes, except in a truck instead. And with one of the best teams in the series, be it GMS Racing, Kyle Busch Motorsports, ThorSport, etc.
Even if that doesn’t happen – and neither does the part-time RFR fight – it still seems unlikely we’ve seen Newman’s last. At a minimum, it would be a good shot for any team on a dirt track, of which there are now three on the national program between the Cup and the Trucks. Much like former teammate / car owner Tony Stewart, there are also plenty of non-NASCAR opportunities on local tracks across the country.
Speaking of Stewart: there’s this upstart series called Superstar Racing Experience which will enter its second season next year. I’m just saying.
So this weekend? Of course, this could be the last time we see Newman at a full-time Cup level – and even that remains a nebulous question. But don’t throw away your merchandise and souvenirs right away; there is a good chance that his last laps have not yet been completed.
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