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Despite Podium, Newman Not Where Wants To Be

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 3 2014

Ryan Newman says he and his RCR team are not quite there yet. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Those hoping that Ryan Newman would declare that his third-place finish in last Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Kentucky represented a first step on his way to the 2014 series championship, left Sparta disappointed.

About the most promising thing they heard Newman say after he had posted his best finish since joining Richard Childress Racing in the recent off season, was that it,  “Was a good run for us.”

Not that a podium finish wasn’t most welcome for Newman and his No. 31 RCR bunch. Not with the kind of year they have been having. Ain’t been good.

Hopes had to be fairly decent for the team when Newman, let go by Stewart Haas Racing after 2013, was found to be available to take the seat that had long been occupied by Jeff Burton.

Newman, after all, was an established star in Cup. He’d won 17 races in the series since breaking into the Cup in 2000. He collected 51 poles. He won the Daytona 500 in 2008 when he was with Penske Racing. He won the high profile Brickyard 400 just last year.

In hiring Newman, team owner Richard Childress talked about his hopes for his new star.

“We have high expectations for this No. 31 team,” Childress said. “Ryan has proven himself to be a great driver, and I’m looking forward to winning races with him.”

Seventeen races into the RCR portion of his career, there hadn’t been even a sniff of a top-five, let alone a victory. His average finish has been 14th and that’s with Saturday’s podium.

But, Newman’s struggles have not been unique on his team. None of RCR’s three full-time drivers have won a race this season. In 51 starts by the full timers Newman, Austin Dillon and Paul Menard, and five more by part-timer Brian Scott, there had been only three podiums before Kentucky. All by Menard.

The problems for the RCR cars seem to be the same problems that most cars in Cup not powered by Hendrick Motorsports engines are having – a relative lack of speed.

At Kentucky, the RCR cars were still, clearly, not in the Hendrick power range. Explaining the good finish, Newman said, “Having that clean air and that track position is probably more powerful than anything we do with the race car at times, so that’s probably the biggest difference.”

If Newman was less than jubilant about his podium, he left Kentucky somewhat hopeful. By the finish and also by improved work in the pits by his crew.

“It’s nice for us on the 31 side to get a top 5,” Newman said, “and it’s something to build on for sure. It doesn’t mean we’re going to go out and win the next race, but it gives us some confidence, and confidence is very powerful in our sport.”

But confidence alone does not win races.

Newman knows that as he looks ahead, hoping he can grab a victory and perhaps a Chase berth. He knows a lot of work is still needed at RCR.

“Pocono, Indy, Michigan, even places like Charlotte now,” he said, “are so much wide open because the cars have still got too much downforce on them that it’s very important to have good horsepower, and good horsepower will win you races. We’re working on that part of it for Indy and for Pocono and for Michigan. I think we’re not where we need to be, but that’s why we’re working on it, and we’ll see if we can make those gains before those races come.”

The next stop is this weekend’s Firecracker, er, whatever they call the Fourth of July weekend race these days, at Daytona.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 3 2014
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