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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