Ryan Newman continues dark horse run to Homestead with 3rd-place finish

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Another race has gone by in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and Ryan Newman’s chances of being part of the Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway continue to grow.

Newman picked up his second Top-5 of the 2014 Chase today at Martinsville Speedway, following winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon through a wild restart with five laps to go and finishing third.

With one of the three automatic bids to the Championship erased thanks to Earnhardt’s victory, Newman finds himself second behind Gordon on the Chase Grid going to the Eliminator Round’s middle race next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

“I’m really surprised that we made it to the end without another caution,” Newman said of the frantic run to the finish. “…We were fortunate to make it up from eighth to third there. Had a pretty good restart. Got down to the bottom when I needed to. Those guys were kind of all jumbled up.

“I got into the back of Clint [Bowyer] a little bit there. I apologize to him. But I had the 22 [Joey Logano] pushing me all the way through the corner. I don’t know there was a whole lot I could have done any different.”

Thanks to today’s outcome, at least two of the final four Championship positions will be decided on points. That could prove to be big for Newman, who remains winless but has become a fixture up front (five consecutive Top-10 finishes) at the most important stretch of the season.

“It’s played to our advantage the entire time as far as not having a win, not having bonus points [for a win],” he said. “Even if you’re 8 of 12 or 16, you’re still getting caught up, making free points that they’re giving you to be tied to the next bracket.

“It’s been to our advantage the whole entire time.  But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be from the drop of the green in Texas or from the drop of the green in Homestead. [But] it has played to our advantage mathematically, no doubt.

“We were the 16th seed coming in without a win. We’ve not won yet. We were tied for the lead in the points with four races to go. So mathematically it has played to my advantage – as [it has] others, but probably mine mostly.”

Newman had to work for this one today, though. He had climbed up to ninth when a caution came out at Lap 188.  But both himself and Gordon (who was the race leader) were tagged for speeding in the pits during the subsequent round of yellow-flag stops.

Newman took the Lap 206 restart in 31st, one spot behind Gordon. But by Lap 300, both men had rocketed back into the Top 10.

The next hundred laps saw Newman fall back outside the Top 10 with a tight-handling car but return there when adjustments in the pits paid off.

Following the brief red flag with 11 laps to go for Kyle Larson and Marcos Ambrose’s crash, Newman was called into the pits for fuel and two tires. While Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and David Ragan stayed out to take over first, second, and third, Newman was fifth off of pit road – slotting in eighth for the final restart.

But the two-tire call proved huge in the end for Newman and the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team.

“The strategy of two tires there at the end worked out good for us,” Newman said. “Right number of laps with the guys that stayed out, kept the guys behind us that had four tires.

“Great team effort. I put our team in a hole when I sped on pit lane, which doesn’t happen very often. It did today. It cost us a lot of track position, same time that the 24 [Gordon] did. We come back to finish second and third together 300 laps later.”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”