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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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”