Ryan Newman ready to emerge from cocoon and fly in 2014

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Caterpillar is one of the preeminent names in heavy machinery and equipment. But caterpillar can also mean an insect that goes through a catharsis and emerges a beautiful butterfly, ready to fly and begin a new life in a whole new world.

Both versions of Caterpillar/caterpillar apply to Ryan Newman.

First, he’s driving the primarily Caterpillar-sponsored No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing this season in the Sprint Cup Series.

At the same time, after being released by Stewart-Haas Racing last season under the pretense that there wasn’t enough sponsorship available to field his car – only to have Kurt Busch sign roughly a week or so later to essentially take Newman’s spot – Newman has emerged from his post-SHR cocoon ready to write a new chapter of his career with RCR.

One that potentially could finally reward him with what he’s chased for more than a decade: the Sprint Cup championship.

Given the way he was let go at SHR, you’d think Newman would have some lingering resentment at how the whole situation went down. But in a recent interview, Newman was anything but bitter.

“I have nothing to prove this year from any other year in my entire career, other than the fact of what I want to do and achieving my goals and winning the Chase,” Newman told MotorSportsTalk. “There’s nothing I need or have to prove to anybody else other than myself.

“It’s all over (his tenure at SHR). It’s more important not to burn a bridge behind you.”

Stewart-Haas’s loss is definitely RCR’s gain. Newman has replaced Jeff Burton, who has shifted to a part-time role with Michael Waltrip Racing this season in preparation for a new career as a TV analyst next season on NASCAR on NBC telecasts.

Not only has Newman quickly became acclimated to his new surroundings, in what could be a prelude of things to come, his new team has done a heck of a lot better thus far in Speedweeks than his old team.

New teammate Austin Dillon is on the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500, while Newman and fellow teammates Paul Menard and Brian Scott were part of an RCR onslaught that recorded four of the 12 fastest speeds during this past Sunday’s pole qualifying.

And don’t think Newman doesn’t have thoughts of winning the Great American Race for the second time in his career on Sunday.

“We have everything that we need at RCR to be successful,” Newman said. “The biggest and best resource you can have is people, and Richard has put together a great group of people and I have a great crew chief in Luke (Lambert).

“I’m excited about it, about the way the cars drive, with some of the new rules on height and suspension, it kind of opens up a little bit of old school/new school stuff that we can work on and kind of tie things together.”

In a sense, Newman’s move to RCR is completing some unfinished business. Before he agreed to join fellow Hoosier Tony Stewart at the rechristened Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, Newman was courted heavily by Childress in 2008 to join his team, as well.

SHR ultimately won out in the battle for Newman’s services, but he never forgot the impression he got of Childress’ overall organization, to the point that Newman told himself if he ever had a chance to go to RCR again in his career, he’d definitely pursue it.

So in a roundabout way, Newman has SHR – particularly team majority owner Carl Haas, who chose Busch over Newman – to thank for changing his fortunes for what he believes will definitely be for the better in 2014 and beyond.

“The biggest thing is they’re in control of their own destiny,” Newman said of RCR. “They build their own engines, chassis and bodies, they have a great group of people. I had experienced a little bit about what they had to offer five years before, so I still kind of had that taste in my mouth of what the potential was.

“Albeit, things didn’t work out for us back in 2008 for the 2009 season, but in my additional experiences with Stewart-Haas Racing, I know the importance about being in control of your own destiny.”

So with SHR now nothing more than a distant memory, and no lingering bitterness at how it all went down, it’s everything’s positive and full steam ahead for Newman and RCR from here on out.

“Change is good,” Newman said. “We saw last year, especially with Matt Kenseth’s move, that moving a driver into an existing team still gives him a great opportunity.

“That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen every time or every season or with every driver, but that was a good example at least to say that yes, it can be done. I look forward to all of this year.”

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne