Ryan Newman is one of those drivers who might not turn heads with his numbers anymore, but he’s good for quiet consistency and solid finishes. Long gone are the days of Newman’s eight-win, 11-pole season of 2003, but there’s a reason he’s still in the driver’s seat: He can finish in the top 10, and he provides a veteran presence on a team in transition to a younger generation.
Newman’s 13 top-10 runs in 2017 topped his 2016 number, and his seven top 5s were the most he’s posted in a season since running up nine in 2011. Newman’s win at Phoenix was his first since 2013. The downside was that Newman’s best qualifying effort was second at Atlanta, although the driver known for his qualifying prowess early in his career hasn’t won a pole in four years.
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While qualifying is important, Newman’s bigger weakness last year was the zero he had in the stage wins column. There’s no doubt that hurt in the playoffs, where Newman’s consistency was overrun by his competitors. Stage racing was a new ballgame last year, though, and now Newman and his team know the importance of those results, so it’s possible that a change in strategy will emerge for the Richard Childress Racing veteran.
That veteran status is, from an organizational standpoint, perhaps Newman’s best asset. With some uncertainty at RCR, Newman still sets an example for teammate Austin Dillon and for a pair of youngsters driving for satellite teams, Ty Dillon and Darrell Wallace Jr.
Luke Lambert remains on top of the pit box. Newman and Lambert communicate very well; Newman can be short-tempered, but Lambert handles it well. The pair may want to revisit their stage racing strategy this season, but they’re hardly alone in that category. The importance of stage wins caught some veteran teams by surprise, but everyone heads into 2018 knowing the need to perform throughout a race.
RCR was once Chevrolet’s top team, but it’s hard to deny that the organization has fallen a tick behind Hendrick Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing. With Chevrolet’s change to the Camaro body, though, it’s a chance for teams to find new speed. The Camaro has had an impressive showing in preliminary wind tunnel testing, so teams enter the season optimistic about the cars.
Earnhardt Childress Racing engines have been synonymous with durability dating back to the days of a technical alliance between Childress and the teams owned by Dale Earnhardt and Andy Petree. How durable are they? In four seasons with RCR, Newman hasn’t suffered a single engine failure. ECR power is formidable on the restrictor-plate tracks and will be running at the finish everywhere else.
Speaking of Petree, the former championship crew chief returns to the fold as vice president of competition. That’s a huge asset for Newman and Austin Dillon.
Caterpillar continues its sponsorship of Newman this year, and Liberty National joins the team for some races as well.
Newman may well be the best driver of his generation without a championship. That’s unlikely to change this season, but he’s a perennial playoff threat and still a valuable asset to the organization.