Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman earned his spot among the Championship 4 after using a bold, last-lap move to muscle his way past rookie Kyle Larson for the 11th spot Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
By gaining that one position, Newman finished one point ahead on Jeff Gordon in the Chase Eliminator Round standings and will compete for the Sprint Cup championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway against Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and Denny Hamlin.
Using up the rookie and door-banging his way into the championship fight, some out there have criticized Newman’s actions and said he should be removed from the Chase.
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Yet with championship hopes on the line, what else was Newman to do?
Absolutely nothing, that’s what.
These teams and drivers compete all season long with the hopes of advancing to the final, winner-take-all race in Homestead for the Sprint Cup championship. Newman needed to gain one position and was willing to do whatever it took to grab that spot before it was too late. He knew the time for give and take had gone out the window.
"I think if Kyle Larson was in my shoes, he’d have done the exact same thing," Newman said following Sunday’s race. "I didn’t take him out. He still finished the race … I think in a day or two he’ll understand, if he doesn’t now.
"It’s hard to rationalize that, but like I said, I did what I had to do and tried to keep it as clean as I possibly could," he said. "I don’t like racing that way, but there’s a lot on the line here, and we’ll keep digging."
For his part, Larson was not happy with Newman’s move, but understood the situation.
"I knew the 31 (Newman) was right around me, and knew he needed to gain some spots to keep from getting eliminated from the Chase," said Larson. "It’s a little upsetting he pushed me up to the wall, but I completely understand the situation he was in, and can’t fault him for being aggressive there. I think a lot of drivers out here would have done something similar if they were in that position."
Some fans criticized Newman’s move, calling it dirty racing and bemoaning the fact his decision to use up Larson eventually cost Gordon a shot at the title. Yet Newman did nothing wrong.
Throughout the Chase format, Newman has also been criticized for not having any wins on the season and for not being a threat for the win week-in and week-out like Gordon, Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Logano.
However, Newman and his Luke Lambert-led team have figured out how to play the new system and advance through each of the different Chase rounds. The move he made on the final lap to advance into the championship final was nothing more than playing the system and doing what needed to be done.
We saw Brad Keselowski do this last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway when he tried to shoot the gap between Harvick and Gordon for the lead. We also saw it when Joey Logano threw a big block on Harvick at Talladega Superspeedway so that his teammate Keselowski could drive off to Victory Lane and advance to the Eliminator Round. Newman’s move was nothing more than giving it his all to keep his title hopes alive.
One of Newman’s championship competitors, Denny Hamlin took to Twitter Monday morning to defend Newman’s actions, saying Gordon’s fans are just upset their favorite driver did not make the final round.
Not gonna tag his Twitter name bc he'd get a bunch of crap, but one fan sent me a petition to remove Newman from Chase or boycott Homestead.
Either way this new Chase format has certainly created excitement and drama, and Newman’s actions on the last lap were simply a product of that format. Fans will be upset when their driver does not make it to the final championship race, but they need to know the difference between hard racing and a dirty move.
Newman gave it his all, took a chance on the inside of Larson, and in the end it paid off. No harm, no foul.
VIDEO: Newman’s pass in Phoenix & Keselowski’s pass in Texas product of Chase format