When Ryan Newman decides to hang up his helmet and call it a career he’ll face the question all drivers do: what will you be remembered for?
To ask that question doesn’t imply that Newman should or is thinking about calling it quits anytime soon, but with his pole Friday for the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville, it got some thinking.
The Indiana native is fast and has been since his arrival in the sport in 2002 with fellow rookie Jimmie Johnson.
But it seems Newman's only fast when it doesn’t matter the most.
While Newman edged Johnson for rookie of the year honors, Johnson has since edged Newman in the most important categories.
Newman has compiled 13 career wins and as of Friday in Martinsville, 45 pole awards. He’s earned the many nicknames that he’s been given, including Rocketman.
When it comes to qualifying Newman is the man for the job.
“It was big for me today because I think I broke my tie with Buck Baker,” Newman said in his post-qualifying interview. “But that old man Mark Martin has been running away from me for the last few weeks.”
Newman can start a race, but Johnson will finish it.
Since 2002 Johnson has 46 career wins, 22 poles and three championships.
If Newman retired today he’d be remember as a man that could go fast for two laps but a man that could never quite pull it into victory lane. It’s a theme that has repeated itself through much of his career, including this season where he’s still win-less in his Stewart-Haas No.39 US Army Chevrolet.
“I know that winning is a big part of our sport, and I want to win just as bad if not worse than anyone else," Newman says.
"We’ve been trying so hard each and every week, sometimes too hard,” he said about his 2009 season.
Newman’s career has been stout though, he’s won the All-Star race and the 2008 Daytona 500, and in his first four seasons he never finished lower than seventh in the point standings.
But things quickly went downhill for his then No.12 Penske team and he finished 13th, 18th, and 17th the last three years before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing.
Once that announcement was made, maybe, just maybe Ryan Newman fans wondered, he’d finally be able to have a memorable season like his counterpart Johnson.
Instead, Newman is back to winning pole flags on Friday’s and not winner trophies on Sunday’s.
But that’s nothing to be ashamed of; he’s good at his job.
But this is a job where only winning matters, and by winning you make the sponsors and fans happy. It also goes a long way to bringing home a championship.
His boss, Tony Stewart, has overshadowed him all year long since he joined Stewart at the new organization. Stewart has won races, four this year, and led the point standings majority of the year.
Newman though, quietly sat in the back end of the top ten and has yet to break into victory lane. Everyone knows he can win, but he hasn’t.
If Newman was ever able to turn all those poles into wins there’s no telling what his records might look like. In 2003 it appeared he might be on the path of doing that, winning eight times that year to go along with his 11 poles.
The problem though, if Newman wasn’t winning he was wrecking.
He recorded 12 finishes of 20th or worse in 36 races. That took away any chance he had at contending for a championship.
A race and championship isn’t won on Friday afternoons during practice and qualifying, but if Newman had his way he’d reward the area where he excels.
“I’ve always said I’d like to have points awarded for qualifying,” he said on Tuesday. “I still feel that we spend an entire day getting our starting positions. And if you have the opportunity to go 5,4,3,2,1 [points] for the top five qualifiers, I think that would be good.”
Instead of spending so much time thinking about Fridays, Newman and company should be focused on Sundays, and how they can change the qualifying nickname “Rocketman” into something a little more rewarding about their Sunday performances.