Ryan Newman feels for old buddy Tony Stewart, but not SHR’s struggles

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Ryan Newman was told shortly after mid-season in 2013 that his services would no longer be required at Stewart-Haas Racing at season’s end.

The reason: Newman was told there wasn’t enough sponsorship to keep him.

By all appearances, it appeared to be a business decision by SHR, particularly since Kevin Harvick was headed there to assume driving for the company’s third Sprint Cup team in addition to Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick.

Even winning the 2013 Brickyard 400 didn’t make a difference. Even eventually being the only SHR driver to make the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup didn’t make a difference, either.

Newman was going to be gone at season’s end.

But after being told there wasn’t enough money to run Newman in a fourth car, SHR majority owner Gene Haas went out and hired Kurt Busch to run a fourth car for the team in 2014.

You might think Newman would still carry some bitterness from all that, or that he might hold some glee inside now that Busch was eliminated from the Chase while Newman – with his new team at Richard Childress Racing – advanced to the second round.

Actually, Newman considers that not to be a big deal.

“No, not at all,” Newman said at this week’s Contender Round media day, adding to the reporter that posed the question, “I hadn’t thought about it until you just said it, honestly.”

Newman’s release was the second time SHR has raised eyebrows after questionable personnel moves.

In 2011, Darian Grubb was told before the Chase that he would be out as Tony Stewart’s crew chief at the end of that season.

In perhaps one of the most ironic turnabouts in NASCAR history, Grubb then helped Stewart go from winless in the 26-race regular season to win a series-high five races in the 10-race Chase, ultimately capped off with Stewart’s third championship in 10 seasons.

To their credit, Grubb and Newman have not publicly gloated at the misfortunes their former organization has gone through since their respective departures.

Newman even is quite sympathetic to both Stewart and the family of Kevin Ward Jr., after the latter was killed following being struck by Stewart’s car during a dirt track race in upstate New York on August 9.

“I’ve really only talked to him a little bit,” Newman said of Stewart. “I can only imagine what he’s going through emotionally and mentally.

“After a situation like that, it’s hard for anybody to say that you could ever be the same, whether it’s to the media or SHR or his friends or anybody else.”

While he still cares for his old friend, when Newman was asked if SHR will be able to rebound from Stewart’s recent troubles, Newman gave a slight hint of possibly how he really feels about his old organization as a whole.

“I don’t know, I don’t care,” Newman said with a slight chuckle. “If somebody’s a competitor of yours or a co-worker of yours that stubs his toe and has a bad day and affects you, does it really matter?”

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Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.