Newman and Stewart defy expectations with early success
Looking back at Talladega, it's easy to get lost in the haze of
"When I saw Carl flying up in front of me, I thought he was actually going to spin down to the bottom," said
"I saw the left rear tire coming right toward my windshield. So, yeah, it was bad. The bar in the center of the car is called the Earnhardt Bar for a reason -- we've had cars close to coming through there before. Luckily, that Earnhardt Bar stood up for me."
Two seconds passed, and the No. 99 car was off the No. 39 and on its way to the flip of a lifetime. But Newman was far from in the clear -- with his hood flipped up and the front of his car smashed, he had every reason to stop steering.
But he didn't.
"I kept my foot [on the gas]," said Newman. "I knew I was going to bounce off the wall and still finish third."
So, while Edwards was running
Destroying not one but two cars at Daytona, Newman's team looked like the Bad News Bears in an ugly pit stop during the race. Slumping to 36th, things only got worse from there. Four races in, Stewart was basking in the glory of three top-10 finishes, while Newman had yet to score a top 20.
"We took a few licks early," admitted Newman of the early-season slump that made you wonder if he questioned leaving Penske Racing, the only team he'd ever known since entering the Cup Series in 2001. "But we never got down."
That patience -- unexpected from a team owned by a man known to fly off the handle -- proved well worth it. A 7th at Bristol was the stabilizing factor the team needed to turn things around, and since then they've scored an average finish of 9.4 to surge from 32nd to 13th in points. The pinnacle of their performance came at Talladega, where Newman was pushed to the front by
"I was put in the right position by the right situations," Newman said. "[Junior] stuck to his word and pushed me all the way around [to the final lap in the lead]. I just didn't expect the 09 and 99 to get hooked up and go as quick as they did."
Nobody expected this program to be in position to win this early, either -- especially considering both Newman and Tony Stewart's cars combined for zero top-5 finishes last season. Now, they have four in just nine races -- a credit to how well the two Indiana drivers have gelled in turning around the program.
"Having Ryan Newman as a teammate is a huge asset," Stewart said. "We've worked well together from day one. His depth of knowledge of the car and why things do what they do has been a huge asset to me. It's been a huge asset to the whole organization."
A lot of the credit for that goes to Newman's engineering background; He's one of the few drivers to hold an undergraduate degree (Newman was an engineering major at Purdue). While much of the credit for SHR's early success has gone to Stewart hires
Former crew chief
"Consistency has always been the key to success," Newman admits of his recent revival. "We just need to keep doing what we've been doing."
And that includes doing whatever it takes to cross the finish line.