Ryan Newman won eight races during the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. He ended up finishing sixth in the standings.
The championship that year went to the more consistent Matt Kenseth, even though he only won one race.
And now in 2014, this first year of the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format, Newman could wind up winning the Cup without winning any races at all.
But don’t bother getting Newman to look for a sense of irony in that.
To the Richard Childress Racing driver, whose constant front-running has put him second on the Chase Grid going into tomorrow’s middle race of the Eliminator Round at Texas Motor Speedway, he’ll take a title any way he can get one.
“Mathematically, the potential is there [for a winless champion],” Newman said on Friday at TMS. “As long as you have four seeds and three winners, there’s that potential. We know that, at the max, there will be two at this point going into this last round [on points alone].
“Nevertheless, a championship is still a championship, and the trophy doesn’t have the number of wins underneath it. If we win the championship, that would be great in any form or fashion.
“But we’re here to win races as well, and there would be nothing better than to win the next three. There’s no guarantee in any of that.”
As Newman himself noted on Friday, he’s largely been banking a steady rate of finishes in the lower Top 10 this year without leading a lot of laps (he’s paced only 41 laps throughout the year, 17 of which have come during the Chase).
However, as the year has gone by and the series re-visits many of its tracks for a second time, Newman and the 31 camp have improved their results.
That’s paid off big for them during this Chase. Texas could mark the seventh consecutive race in which the team has bettered their spring result at the same track (Newman finished 16th at Texas in April).
Outside of a win either tomorrow or in next weekend’s Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix, that may be the path to Homestead and the Sprint Cup Championship Race for them.
But what if they do get there? Are they good enough to out-hustle the three others that would be racing them for the Cup?
“I feel like we are, without a doubt,” Newman said. “It takes us continuing to perform and outperform where we have performed. We’ve gotten stronger as the year has gone. The last two races were nice; to have back-to-back Top-5s is something that is much needed at this time of the year for our team.
“So yeah, without a doubt, we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t a contender for the championship.”