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.”
The focus of the Detroit Monster Energy Supercross round was on the mid-pack battle while Aaron Plessinger pulled away from the field, but when he crashed after hooking his foot in the dirt, the results once more looked like we’ve come to expect, with Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac sharing the podium for the fifth time in 10 rounds.
For Sexton, Plessinger’s late-race crash was a vindication of sorts. Several times already this season, Sexton has crashed while battling for the lead and the points that has cost him keeps him sporting the red plate. He lost points in Detroit for a different reason, however.
Sexton was allowed to keep the win, but was penalized seven points for jumping in a red cross section of the course. As a result, he dropped four points to Webb and two to Tomac. Sexton is now 17 points behind Webb in the championship hunt.
One week after snatching the red plate from Tomac for the first time in 2023, Webb stretched his advantage by two. With his second-place finish, Webb holds a three-point lead over Tomac, which essentially means both riders control their fate in the coming weeks. Webb continues to have a sweep of the top five this season with his sixth consecutive podium.
Coming off his worst finish of the season, Tomac rebounded to finish third. His eighth-place result last week was partially attributed to a stiff neck that hindered him in traffic and he still suffered some of those same effects in Detroit. Before Plessinger’s crash, he was destined to be the only rider in the three-man title scrum to finish off the podium in Detroit.
It is surprising what one position can do for one’s confidence.
Justin Barcia scored his fourth top-five of the season. He was part of the exciting four-man battle that dominated the middle stages of the race before Sexton and Webb gained a little separation. Finishing less than three seconds behind Tomac, he kept that rider honest for the entire race.
Coming off his first win of the season, Ken Roczen finished fifth. It was his seventh top-five of the season and it elevated him to fifth in the standings.
Hunter Lawrence tied his brother Jett Lawrence with 10 wins each after another dominating ride in the Detroit Supercross race and the results in the points continue to widen. With his fifth win in six rounds and a worst finish of third, Lawrence now has a 35-point advantage over Nate Thrasher with four rounds remaining. Finishes of 14th or better in the final four mains will give him his first 250 championship.
Jett will have an opportunity to retake his wins’ lead as Supercross heads west for the next two rounds in Seattle and Glendale, Arizona.
Nate Thrasher earned his third second-place finish of the season with a gap of 7.6 seconds to Lawrence. He won the overall in Arlington earlier this season, but a 15th-place finish in the opening round in Houston and 10th in Daytona hurts his championship chances.
Haiden Deegan scored his second podium and fourth top-five in six rounds of his young career. On his way to that finish, he rode aggressively against his teammate Jordon Smith in the heat race. Fans are getting a glimpse of what his on-track personality might be.
Jeremy Martin continues to be the model of consistency. He has not finished worse than sixth or better than fourth in six rounds now and that has allowed him to close to within two points of third in the 250 East championship standings.
Max Anstie entered the race weekend second in the points, but a hard crash in heavy traffic early in the main forced him to retire after two laps. Earning only one point for the round, he plummeted to fifth in the standings.
The news was worse for Smith, who was dropped out of the top nine in his heat after the altercation with Deegan and failed to advance through the LCQ. In the last chance race, he stalled his engine and had to mount a determined charge. He got only as high as seventh in that race after crashing while attempting to make a pass on fourth-place Jack Chambers.