Ryan Newman back on the upswing with second consecutive top-10, looks to change bad luck at ‘Dega

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After a bit of a slump, Ryan Newman is definitely back on the upswing following Saturday’s eighth-place finish in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Newman collected his second consecutive top-10, having finished 10th two weeks earlier at Darlington.

After back-to-back seventh-place finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas, Newman struggled at Bristol (16th) and another pair of back-to-back finishes (20th) at both Fontana and Martinsville.

But since then, the driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet has finished 16th (Texas), 10th (Darlington) and now eighth at Richmond.

He was very competitive at Richmond, running in the top-five at times. He was running sixth with 15 laps left, but couldn’t make much forward progress, eventually ending up eighth.

“We battled a tight-handling condition throughout the race and Luke (Lambert, crew chief) did a good job keeping up with the way the track changed,” Newman said. “By the end of the night, we had a Chevrolet challenging for the win.

“Our biggest problem was the restarts. We seemed to find ourselves in the wrong line. We’d try to get a good restart, but a car in front of us would spin their tires and cut off all our momentum. Had we had a long run at the end, we may be in victory lane right now. We had one of the fastest cars on 40 and 50-lap, green-flag runs.”

Newman is now ninth in the Cup standings heading into this Sunday’s big race at Talladega. Unfortunately, the 2.66-mile superspeedway has not been one of Newman’s better tracks.

He’ll make his 25th career start there Sunday. In addition to at least two spectacular end-over-end crashes earlier in his career there, Newman has just four top-five and one other top-10 finish.

He’s hoping his good luck of late will change his run of bad luck at ‘Dega.

“Here’s hoping we can carry the momentum of the last two races into Talladega,” Newman said. “That superspeedway hasn’t been too kind to me, so hopefully me and my RCR team can start a new trend together.”

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Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”