Ryan Newman's Odd 2013: From NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase Contender to Unemployed

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2013

LONG POND, PA - AUGUST 02: Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 Haas Automation 30th Anniversary Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 2, 2013 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
Geoff Burke/Getty Images

It's been a very strange month for Ryan Newman.

Just before last month's Brickyard 400, he was told his services would no longer be needed after this season at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Newman had been fired—but at least with the courtesy of being given four months before this season ends to find a new job for 2014.

But rather than wallow in self-pity, Newman did what a real racer does—he responded to the bad news by going out and winning the Brickyard 400 in his home state of Indiana.

Then, two weeks later, Newman's boss, Tony Stewart, suffered a double break in his right leg in a sprint car crash, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.

This week, Newman and the rest of NASCAR nation learned that Kurt Busch may be joining SHR next season, as the organization would move to a four-car operation.

Funny, isn't it, that SHR didn't have the room or sponsorship dollars to keep Newman next season, but just a few weeks later finds both the money and a potential top-flight ride for Busch.

And now comes the biggest irony of all: with three races left to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Newman is within striking distance of making the 2013 Chase as SHR's lone representative.

Even though he's 15th in the standings, Newman is just 25 points out of 10th place, the final guaranteed spot for the Chase heading into Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

If you think that's a large points gap, consider that points leader Jimmie Johnson came into last Sunday's race at Michigan with a 75-point lead over second-ranked Clint Bowyer, had a terrible day and left Michigan with just a 41-point lead, a 34-point swing.

If that kind of swing can happen to the series' top dog, anything can happen for the 12 guys on either side of the Chase bubble, including Newman.

What's more, Newman already has one win this season. If he can manage to grab another win either at Bristol, next weekend at Atlanta or in the final Chase qualifier at Richmond in two weeks, he likely will make the playoffs as one of two wild-card contenders.

That is, if he doesn't climb all the way into the top-10 and secure one of the guaranteed berths.

I understand that much of what has happened at SHR this season has been due to fate and bad luck, from Stewart's worst season start in his Cup career to his broken leg. And Danica Patrick going from a Daytona debutante in February to an almost forgotten entity six months later, currently wallowing in 27th place in the standings.

But now Newman is THE MAN for SHR—and yes, it deserves that kind of capitalization, given the position he and the company both find themselves in. Newman is all SHR has left to salvage at least some semblance of success and respectability this season.

What makes Newman's situation all the more compelling is the incredible similarity to that of Darian Grubb in 2011.

Grubb was Stewart's crew chief from the time SHR was formed in 2008. But by the time the 2011 Chase rolled around, Stewart had still not managed a win, prompting him and Haas to tell Grubb he would be out of a job at season's end.

To SHR's credit, and much like Newman's situation, it gave Grubb plenty of notice—he knew going into the Chase that he'd be looking for a new job in a few months.

Grubb could have walked away and left Stewart high and dry with the Chase approaching, but he decided to be a pro and finish out the season—for his crew members, for Stewart's fans and also for himself.

Then one of the strangest things ever in NASCAR history happened.

Everything all of a sudden started to click for Stewart. After failing to get even one win in the first 26 races, he would go on to win five of the 10 Chase races, would tie Carl Edwards for the championship and then win the title by virtue of the first tiebreaker: the number of wins each driver had.

Stewart, thanks to Grubb's guidance upon the pit box, won that tiebreaker hands down, five wins to just one for Edwards.

It was a surreal scene when Grubb walked into the post-championship press conference that muggy night at Homestead Miami Speedway in 2011. You'd think he would be all smiles and ecstatic.

Instead, he sat upon the podium with sad eyes looking like he had just lost his best friend. You'd probably feel the same way, too, knowing you just helped your boss to win his third Cup championship, only to be repaid with a pink slip.

Stewart and Haas could very easily have reconsidered and kept Grubb, but they didn't. Their mind was made up weeks before, and it wasn't going to change, regardless of the significant championship he had just led the organization to.

Yet another big mistake on SHR's part.

To his credit, Grubb kept his head up high, never once dissed SHR and simply and quietly moved on.

You would think that Stewart and Haas would have learned a lesson from the way the whole Grubb situation was handled. Of course, no one could have predicted the incredible run Stewart would go on in the Chase, but to not even find another place for Grubb in the growing company as a reward for his efforts did not go over very well with many fans and media.

It's a wound that still stings for many to this day.

Unfortunately, that lesson was not learned by SHR, as Newman is in the same position now as Grubb was back when the 2011 Chase began—nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Wouldn't it be the ultimate irony if Newman not only saves the day for SHR by making the Chase in the next three weeks, but then pulls a Brad Keselowski-like fairy-tale run to the Sprint Cup championship at season's end?

Like Grubb, Newman is a pro, too. But something tells me if the above scenario were to play out, he'd take the Sprint Cup trophy, raise it high in the air in celebration, turn to Stewart and whisper with a smile, "Hey, old buddy, this one's for me, not you. See ya."

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