When NASCAR reinvented the Chase for the Sprint Cup at the beginning of the year, the idea was to reward winning and the general belief was that points racing would be a thing of the past.
Well, Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman must not have received that message.
The driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet used consistency to make his way into the 16-driver Chase field, and has done the same to move all the way to the Eliminator 8 — all without a single victory.
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That method continued Sunday at Martinsville Speedway as Newman fought and clawed his way to a third-place finish. His top-five run to kick off the Eliminator Round of the Chase was just his fourth of the year, but second in the last two weeks.
As a result of his third-place run, second only to Jeff Gordon among the Chase field, Newman heads to Texas Motor Speedway just three points behind Gordon.
The solid outing was no simple task, as Newman and crew chief Luke Lambert chased the handling of the car much of the day and they were forced to overcome an early pit road speeding penalty.
"We struggled a little bit with the balance all day long, being really, really tight, like really, really tight," said Newman. "The guys did a good job of adjusting it. Kept getting it better and better. Still never really got it right. But the strategy of two tires there at the end worked out good for us. Right number of laps with the guys that stayed out, kept the guys behind us that had four tires."
With three cars staying out on the final caution of the day, Newman restarted the race from the eighth spot and was able to make his way to the front in the closing laps.
"I’m really surprised that we made it to the end without another caution," he said. "The guys that were out front there with no tires, it was really just a replay. At least had the anticipation of it to be a replay of the race I won when I took tires a few years ago.
"We were fortunate to make it up from eighth to third there. Had a pretty good restart. Got down to the bottom when I needed to. Those guys were kind of all jumbled up. I got into the back of Clint (Bowyer) a little bit there. I apologize to him. But I had the 22 (Joey Logano) pushing me all the way through the corner. I don’t know there was a whole lot I could have done any different. In the end it was a crazy restart at Martinsville, which we all expected."
Heading to the second race of the Eliminator Round second in the standings, Newman does not believe the team’s approach will change just because of a strong run this weekend at Martinsville.
"To me it’s just another race," Newman said of next weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. "We came here to do what we needed to do. We’re going to go to Texas to do what we need to do. That’s a lot easier said than done. To me, it’s just another race. It’s an entirely different race than what we had today at Martinsville. Phoenix will be the same.
"But you have to approach it for what it is," he added. "If the outfield wall is a hundred foot closer, you don’t have to hit the ball as far. If you have a really good car at Texas, it makes it that much easier."
Given his season to date, it is entirely possible that Newman qualifies for the Championship 4 that will determine the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The champion will not necessarily have to win that race, just finish ahead of the other three contenders — something that could very easily play right into Newman’s hands.