Longtime NASCAR veterans have exited the sport en masse in recent seasons. The reasons have varied, with some citing the length of the schedule and others failing to find an amicable contract agreement. So it wouldn’t have been a big surprise if Ryan Newman — facing a rules package directly opposed to his racing preferences — had drifted to relative obscurity in his latest role at Roush Fenway Racing and pursued something besides racing in 2020.
Instead, Newman turned in his finest season in four years by average finish (14.6) and earned a spot in the playoffs on points. For context, RFR has landed just one other playoff entry since Carl Edwards left the team after 2014. In addition, Newman was the first RFR driver to score more than nine top-10 finishes in a season during the same span.
“I’m proud of the team effort, proud of everything we’ve achieved,” Newman said after earning his 14th top-10 of the season last fall at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “I’m disappointed we didn’t achieve more, no doubt, but I’m really proud of putting Roush Fenway back on the map.”
The downturn of RFR from a top-flight, four-car organization at the start of the decade to a middling two-car program ranks as one of the most surprising changes in NASCAR in the last 10 years. Now Newman seems to be a rejuvenating force for the team — so much so that his results compared to former teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led the team to swap the No. 17 driving duties to Chris Buescher for this season.
“[I] had lots of question marks from my perspective coming into a new role with a new organization,” Newman says. “I kind of had to sit back and watch and let them play out. And now we’re in a position where we don’t need to let them play out. We need to make sure we’re making the right decisions and making them happen.”
Newman’s goals for this season were easy to develop. He wants the team chemistry to improve, and he wants the team to make better decisions at the shop during the week when preparing cars to race on the weekend.
“I think that’s the most important part of it, just working together more like an organization,” Newman says. “I’m not saying that we didn’t, but we can always do that better. And I feel like that’s one of our biggest goals going into the next season, having the two cars work together better and stronger in defining what we take to the racetrack.”
Newman’s best finish last season came after he drove at the back for most of the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway. He dodged crashes in the rain-postponed race and found himself inches from the race win at the finish line. But he was most proud of efforts the team delivered at two of the series’ shorter tracks: New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway.
At Martinsville in the fall, the team made wholesale changes on the setup the night before the race and earned a top-10 finish. Otherwise, Newman said, they were quickly heading to a finish several laps down. And at NHMS, Newman started in the rear with a backup car and charged to a seventh-place finish.
For a team that has struggled more often than not for the last several years, Newman helped deliver inspiring results. In 2020, it’s an effort that might start to establish a trend of sustained growth for the once-proud team.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2020 Cup Championship: 125/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)