Newman’s show of restraint and class in championship race could teach other drivers valuable lessons

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Ryan Newman made the Sprint Cup Championship Round last Sunday by one point.

He had to run Kyle Larson into the wall to do so, but with his season on the line, for Newman it was the right thing to do at the right time.

One week later in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Newman ultimately lost the championship by one point.

Once again, his season was on the line. He could have made the same move on Kevin Harvick in the final two laps that he did to Larson, but Newman elected not to do so. This time, it wasn’t the right thing to do and wasn’t the right way to do it.

By not resorting to making a move that could potentially have won him the title – but ultimately may have branded him to be a dirty driver at the same time – Newman played it clean, fair and square.

“I thought about hauling it in there wide open but that wouldn’t have been the right thing to do,” Newman said of Harvick. “I wouldn’t want him to do that to me.”

Even though Sunday may be the closest Newman may ever get to winning a Sprint Cup championship – we certainly hope it isn’t his last chance, though – by not wrecking Harvick, Newman showed an amazing amount of restraint and courage.

And most importantly, an incredible amount of class.

I’m sure there are many who would not have faulted Newman if he turned Harvick on the final lap, with such a move falling under the category of “That’s racin’.”

And I’m also sure that for many others, Newman would have been more than justified in doing so for the way Stewart-Haas Racing did him last season.

One week, Newman was told his contract wasn’t being renewed because there weren’t enough sponsorship dollars to run his team in 2014. Tough, kid, but that’s business.

One week later, billionaire team co-owner Gene Haas goes out and signs Kurt Busch to effectively replace Newman, his former Penske Racing teammate – and then Haas announced he’d sponsor Busch out of his own pocket.

If that isn’t a kick to the groin for Newman, I don’t know what is.

But to his credit, Newman has been a pro’s pro since. He not only won the Brickyard 400 and praised SHR for its collective efforts in getting him to Victory Lane, he also wound as SHR’s lone representative in last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

While he didn’t have the kind of success he would have hoped for in the 2013 Chase, even in a lame duck situation, Newman stayed professional and classy the whole way through.

Just like he did Sunday.

While he deserves all the credit for what he achieved Sunday, Harvick needs to add one person’s name to all those he thanked while celebrating his race win and championship on stage:

Ryan Newman.

Don’t get him wrong, Newman would have loved to be in Harvick’s shoes. But he also has a conscience and a sense of what’s right and wrong that many fellow drivers don’t.

“I really was hoping he would slip a tire, blow a motor, something like that, that was our only hope,” Newman said. “All those things go through your mind.”

But Harvick held it all together and drove on to the race win and championship.

“It was fun from my standpoint to come from where we came from this year,” Newman said. “We started the season in Daytona getting spun out in the last five laps to being the runner-up for the championship. It was a good rebound for us.”

If it had been Brad Keselowski or Kyle Busch or Joey Logano or Denny Hamlin in the same situation in the final laps Sunday, I’m not 100 percent sure they would have been as gentlemanly and gentile in dealing with Harvick on that final lap as Newman ultimately was.

“We came back for the entire season to make our best finish our last finish,” Newman said in the post-race media conference. “It is disappointing, don’t get me wrong, but there’s no point in being a sore loser.”

Other drivers may have moped or maybe even refused to speak to the media for coming so close, but not Newman. He accepted that he was the first loser and moved on.

Even in talking after what was perhaps the toughest loss he’s ever suffered, Newman even joked around about the outcome.

“For me personally, it’s the first real championship I’ve been in position to lose in the last race,” Newman said. “I was thinking after I got out of the car, our tables really turned if you think about it when Gordon didn’t win Phoenix.

“Because if (Gordon would) have won Phoenix, Harvick would have been out (of the championship battle) and we’d have been the top guy at the end of the race. I blame all this on Jeff Gordon.”

In a season that saw Newman with an unlikely Cinderella-like finish, there were a lot of lessons learned, more positive than negative, and that’s ultimately fine with Newman.

Sunday wasn’t his day, but a year from now in the 2015 season finale, it very well may finally be Newman’s day, just like it was Sunday for Harvick.

“It’s been an amazing year,” Newman said. “They say you have to lose one before you can win one. I’m ready to win one now.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds