Penske Racing driver Ryan Newman, the 2002 Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award winner, began the season on a high note winning the prized Daytona 500. The victory was an excellent example of how teammates can work together. Penske teammate Kurt Busch gave Newman a push past Joe Gibbs Racing driver Tony Stewart on the final lap to give Newman the victory. Busch finished in second place, and it was the first time Penske cars have finished in the top two in a Cup race. This was a major triumph for Penske Racing, putting the other race teams on notice that they were able to compete and win on the big tracks.
Slow goings after fast start
Winning at Daytona is typically the highlight of any driver's season. However, Newman has not been able to translate that victory into additional wins. Newman has three top-10 finishes and two top-fives in eight races this season. His average finish this year is 17.3, compared to last year at this time when it was 25.5. However, the main concern is that Newman has steadily dropped in his standings since his victory at Daytona International Speedway.
Newman now stands 12th place in Cup points after finishing 43rd at Phoenix International Raceway following a blown engine on Lap 134. Prior to the race in Phoenix, Newman and his team were docked 25 points after his No. 12 Dodge failed a post race inspection. His car was deemed too high, which could provide additional downforce to his car. The fourth-place finish in the Samsung 500 was his best since winning at Daytona.
The perception is that Newman is great at winning poles but not at winning races. He has captured the pole position 43 times compared to 13 wins in his nine-year career. Out of the 43 poles Newman has won, he has only been to Victory Lane in three of those races. The fact that Newman has won so many poles masks some of his success. Only drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Busch have more victories than Newman since his rookie season. That's not bad company.
Last season woes
Last year, Newman had nine DNFs with five coming from engine failures. He matched a career-high in DNFs, something he set in 2004, and they were a major reason that he missed the Chase. The five engine failures were two more than he had previously endured for his entire career. This season, Newman has recorded one DNF, which came from an engine failure after starting from the pole in Phoenix.
There is little doubt that Newman is fast; there is also little doubt that he is a very skilled and competitive driver. The doubts focus on whether he has the equipment that can put him in a position to race those final laps every week.
Penske Racing has deep resources. They are truly a business dedicated to racing. The name alone defines racing. Roger Penske was a decorated driver before an abrupt retirement in 1965. After the retirement, he quickly built business and racing empires. His open-wheel teams have won 134 races, 12 championships and a record 14 Indianapolis 500s.
Newman and new crew chief Roy McCauley have experience working together. They were able to win six times in 2005 in the Nationwide Series and have the one victory this season. Their chemistry was evident in the track strategies they displayed in the victory.
Since Newman drives for Penske, it is important to analyze Dodge's performance. Dodge has only won 14 races in the last three years. In comparison, Chevrolet has 67 wins and Ford can lay claim to 33 races. Toyota has entered the mix with two wins this season, their second year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Richard Petty was the last driver to navigate a Dodge to a championship (1975). Penske engineers are hopeful with design changes made to the nose of the Charger that it will be able to effectively compete with other manufacturers.
Newman is a driver who can win. His 13 career victories since 2002 firmly place him in the top 10 among veteran drivers. His chemistry with McCauley is promising, along with his victory at Daytona. Whether Newman succeeds or fails this season will be reliant on engineering modifications and in-race adjustments to his car. The garage and pit crews working in tandem hold the key to Newman's season.
They will not have the car they used to win at Daytona for the race at Talladega Superspeedway, but the No. 12 has had a couple weeks to work out the kinks. It's not out of the question to expect another victory or two along with some disappointments until Penske engineering makes the necessary adjustments. Lastly, check your league's scoring configuration. If your fantasy format awards points for qualifying, Newman's historical strength in this category makes him considerably more valuable.
About Bob Frykholm
Frykholm has been a KFFL contributor since February 2008.
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