2014 Sprint Cup championship preview: Ryan Newman

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Driver: Ryan Newman
Age: 36 (will be 37 Dec. 8)
Full-time seasons in Sprint Cup: 13
Career starts: 475
Career wins: 17
Career top-5 finishes: 97
Career top-10 finishes: 199
Pole positions: 51

* 2014 record to date: 35 starts, zero wins, four top-five and 15 top-10 finishes. Zero poles. Laps led: 41. Average start per race: 13.1. Average finish per race: 13.0. Lead lap finishes: 30.

* Highest single-season finish to date: Sixth, 2002, 2003, 2005

* Season finishes to date: 2000 (70th), 2001 (49th), 2002 (sixth), 2003 (sixth), 2004 (seventh), 2005 (sixth), 2006 (18th), 2007 (13th), 2008 (17th), 2009 (ninth), 2010 (15th), 2011 (10th), 2012 (14th), 2013 (11th).

* Homestead Record: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in 2012. Average start: 12.4. Average finish: 17.0.

* Year-by-year finishes at Homestead: 2002 (sixth), 2003 (37th), 2004 (30th), 2005 (seventh), 2006 (23rd), 2007 (18th), 2008 (21st), 2009 (23rd), 2010 (seventh), 2011 (12th), 2012 (third), 2013 (17th).

Will “Rocketman” blast off to his first career Sprint Cup title Sunday at Homestead?

With the way he shoved … err, raced … his way into the championship round with his last lap boot of Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman made it very clear he’s not going to be pushed around in the season finale at Homestead.

Rather, Newman may very well be the pusher, not the pushed (or would that be pushee?) with the championship on the line.

In other words, Newman proved at Phoenix that he’s willing to do whatever he needs to do, be it trade paint or spin a fellow contender to win that elusive first Sprint Cup championship.

Without question, Newman is the Cinderella story of the Chase. Not only is he the only driver in the final round without any wins, he has a grand total of just four top-five finishes in the first 35 races.

But it has been his performance in the Chase, with uncanny consistency including two top-five, three other top-10 and three other top-15 finishes that finds Newman where he’s at heading into Homestead.

Newman could make history Sunday. If he wins, it not only would be the first-ever Sprint Cup championship for him, he’d also become the first driver in NASCAR history to win a championship without having won a single race in the same season.

In a way, Newman being in the Chase is the ultimate irony. He replaced Kevin Harvick at Richard Childress Racing. Harvick left RCR because he felt he could have a better chance at a championship at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Newman, in turn, was booted from SHR last season, supposedly under the premise that there was no sponsorship for his car. And then a week or so later, SHR announced it had signed Kurt Busch — with sponsorship from team co-owner Gene Haas’ Haas Automation — to effectively take Newman’s place.

So here we are heading into Homestead and Newman finds himself in a position of winning the championship not only for himself, but also to avenge his release from SHR.

(Newman wouldn’t be the only person potentially looking for revenge against SHR. Darian Grubb, crew chief for Denny Hamlin, was released from the organization right after leading Tony Stewart to the 2011 Sprint Cup championship.)

Plus, there’s added incentive: Newman has the opportunity to become the first driver to win a championship for RCR in 20 years!

That’s right, lost in all the pre-championship hype is the fact that the late Dale Earnhardt’s last crown came in 1994.

Wouldn’t that be an interesting irony for Newman to win it all not only for team owner Richard Childress, but also to prove to Harvick that RCR indeed has what it takes inside the organization to win a Cup championship.

Newman also has the second-most amount of experience next to Harvick. That should count for a lot, especially if Newman needs to make another savvy move late in this Sunday’s race like he did with Larson at Phoenix.

“I am so proud of my guys and all the effort they have put into this. I want to thank Luke Lambert (crew chief), everyone at RCR, ECR Engines, Caterpillar, Chevrolet, Quicken Loans, WIX Filters and Kwikset for giving me the opportunity to race for the championship.

“We’ve been fighting very hard all year long. We did what we had to do to get to this position. We flew under the radar and turned in the solid performances to earn one of the four positions.

“There’s been so much on the line week in and week out during this new Chase format. We’ve been able to dig in and move on. It’s no different with the Homestead-Miami Speedway race. We are going to keep digging and hope it will be good enough to win a Sprint Cup Series championship.”

Newman certainly has confidence. His win at the Brickyard 400 last season, right around the time that he learned he was not going to have his contract renewed, did a great deal for his confidence.

Newman and his team have admittedly had the most struggles this year of any of the four remaining teams and drivers. It’s not just about not having reached Victory Lane thus far. It’s much more than that.

Zero wins AND just four top-five finishes.

And yet here Newman is, in the final round, having advanced to a place where the sport’s biggest names – Johnson, Gordon, Earnhardt, Stewart, Busch, Edwards and more – are nothing more than interested observers and bystanders in Sunday’s race.

Sure, they’ll be in the same race, but they’re not able to grab the big prize that Newman and the other three drivers are chasing.

Could Newman win it all, and yet not even win a single race in 2014 in the process?

Sure, it’s possible. If there’s anything Newman has learned in his long Cup career, it’s that in NASCAR, anything is possible – even a longshot Cinderella story ending up as king of the Sprint Cup hill.

“I sure hope so,” Newman said. “We are certainly going to try.

“I mean, if we can win Homestead, it would be the icing on top of all the cake.”

And boy, there’s no doubt that would be the most delicious cake and icing Newman has ever tasted.

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Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:


Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”