But Newman, 35, who finds himself in his second contract year in as many seasons, doesn’t seem the least bit concerned.
“I’m here to represent my sponsor and win a championship,” Newman said. “I have my personal goals and I have my team goals. What happens, happens. What I do and where I end up, is where I end up. If I stay, I stay, If I don’t, I don’t. I have to do what’s best for me.”
The driver of the No. 39 Stewart/Haas Racing Chevrolet earned a reprieve for 2013. After shopping the driver market last season, he accepted a one-year deal at a reduced pay rate to remain with the organization – his racing home since 2009. Quicken Loans has signed on for half of the races, but as is the case with Newman’s teammates Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick, sponsorship is needed for all three cars.
Despite the uncertainty, Newman, insists that he’s not carrying a greater burden into this season.
“I have no extra pressure on myself to perform at any time in my career,” Newman said. “I just don’t have the things done on paperwork to say what I’m doing in 2014. It doesn’t change how I drive this year. I give 100 percent each and every lap. There’s no 110 percent. There’s only 100 percent. I’ve always done that and I always will.
“It’s not a distraction to me. I don’t think it’s a distraction. It’s something I have to work on. It’s no different than what I’ve worked on my entire life. You just never know. It’s not like something is going to fall from the sky and land in your lap. You have to work at it. And my goal is to work on what I need to work on this year. It will all come together.”
However, with the addition of Patrick to the fold, Newman lost crew chief Tony Gibson and his team for the last four years which were recruited for the No. 10 team to bring the rookie up to speed. For Newman, that means a reunion with his former Penske Racing crew chief Matt Borland. When Newman started his Cup career in 2000, Borland was there to call the shots.
Together, the only combination of driver/crew chief with engineering degrees in the garage, won 12 races together and 37 of Newman’s 49 career poles – which earned him the moniker “Rocketman”. But when the team went winless in 2006, Borland left the company. After a short stint at Michael Waltrip Racing, Borland accepted the position of competition director at Haas CNC Racing – the forerunner of Stewart Haas Racing.
After the partnership was formed between Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, Borland assumed the role of vice president of competition. He’ll retain that job in addition to guiding the No. 39 team this year.
Considering the success Newman enjoyed with Borland in the past, he is confident the pair can rekindle their previous spark. And with their engineering backgrounds, Newman believes the team will have an advantage getting up to speed with the new Generation 6 car.
“I’m really excited to have Matt back as the crew chief,” Newman said. “Most people don’t realize that he was the best man at my wedding (in 2004). He has a great personal connection as well as a performance connection. And we look forward to getting back to Victory Lane.
“We think a lot alike. Sometimes it’s scary. We have our past. We know where we succeeded – and we know where we failed. Overcoming those failures is what makes you stronger yet. That’s why I’m excited to be back with him this year because we know how good we can be. We know where we failed and we know that adapting to a new race car, we can do it again. It’s still physics.”
Considering his friendship with Newman and the precarious situation the driver is in, Borland says he “absolutely feel(s) the pressure”.
“I don’t know if it’s different – less or more than what Roger (Penske) would put on us at times,” Borland said. Roger never says no to anything but you have to perform. I feel we really have to step up and run well this year. It’s very important for him.
“He’s one of the greatest drivers out there. He has the ability to do all those things so if he’s not doing that, that’s something that we’re not doing right as far as getting the cars ready. From that aspect there’s probably less pressure because we know there’s somebody that can get the job done. We just need to get the job done.”
If Newman has a competitive flaw, it’s that he’s too aggressive. Despite his talent for winning poles, he’s converted just four into wins throughout his Cup career. In 2012, Newman scored his third win under the SHR banner which elevated him to a season-high eighth in the point standings six races into the year. But an engine failure four races later at Talladega compounded by a run-in with Kurt Busch at Darlington the following week knocked Newman down to 14th in the point standings where he ultimately finished the year.
Certainly, bringing Borland back on the pit box will keep Newman motivated and provide him the best opportunity to showcase his talent as he auditions for his next ride.
“We started off strong last year and it just kind of fell apart. We won early, which was nice. But even with that win – which would have gotten us into the Chase in 2011 – it didn’t get us into the Chase in 2012. As (competition director Greg) Zipadelli said, ‘you can’t just sit there and feel like you’re happy because you have speed, it takes teamwork, it takes a lot of things to be successful and have a shot at the championship.”