By Toby Christie (Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie)
Ryan Newman’s 17th season of his career was statistically one of his worst. While some would kill to have one of Newman’s down years, the 41-year-old is ready for a turnaround in 2019.
The 2018 campaign started off on a good foot for the Indiana native as he finished eighth in the chaotic Daytona 500.
A week later, Newman qualified second and led the first 17 laps of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It looked like it was going to be a banner day for Newman, but in stage two the No. 31 Camaro ZL1 developed a tire issue that caused Newman to come to pit road, where he would lose several laps.
“I’m not sure yet what happened to our right-front tire. It’s unfortunate for this Liberty National Team,” Newman anguished. “I think we led more laps in this race than we did all year. We started on the front row and took the lead on the first lap and by the end of the first stage we were loose, but our Camaro ZL1 was fast. I wasn’t pushing it. There was no need to. Our car was that good. We lost two laps the next run because of a tire issue and the damage we received from it. At that point, it was all about strategy and doing all we could to race back onto the lead lap with about 230 laps left. I want to thank all the Liberty National guests and fans who stayed with us through the rain. We had a fast Camaro ZL1. I just wish we had the finish to prove it, but it could have been worse and glad we were able to battle back for a top-25 finish.”
After finishing 22nd at Atlanta, Newman and crew chief Luke Lambert bounced back with consecutive 11th-place finishes at Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Newman had clawed back to 13th in the championship standings, but then the wheels began to fall off. Over the next 12 races, Newman had 10 finishes of 19th-or-worse, which included three DNFs.
In the second half of the season, Newman would start to heat back up.
During a four-race stretch – starting with Daytona in July – Newman recorded three top-10 finishes, including his best finish of the season of sixth which came at New Hampshire.
The finish at New Hampshire was impressive because Newman started the race from 18th-position, and he battled a mishandling race car all race long.
“The biggest challenge we battled all day with our Chevrolet Accessories Camaro ZL1 was loose in, tight center, loose off,” Newman explained. “My crew Chief, Luke Lambert, kept up with the track and our adjustments allowed us to race our way into the top 10 by the 200-lap mark. Our pit stops were on point today and I appreciate our pit crew for their hard work. They either gained spots for me, or at least maintained, which was crucial. We’ve struggled this season, but it’s sure nice to race for a top-five, top-10 finish, and have a good points day, too.”
Newman would close out the regular season with decent finishes, which culminated in a 10th-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, Newman finished just outside the cutoff to make the Playoff Grid.
In the 33rd race of the season, at Martinsville Newman recorded his final top-10 finish of the year with an eighth-place effort.
At season’s end, Newman was 17th in the championship standings. He never recorded a top-5 finish, which is the first time in his illustrious career where that has happened. Newman did record nine top-10 finishes and his 57 laps led was his highest total since he led 128 laps in 2013.
There is a ton of change on the horizon for Newman in 2019. He will bounce from Richard Childress Racing over to Roush Fenway Racing to drive the iconic No. 6 Ford Mustang.
Newman’s career has reached a fork in the road. He has performed well for a long time (he even finished runner-up for the championship in 2014), but the results have ticked down steadily in recent seasons. This three-year deal with RFR will be Newman’s shot at reviving his career, as well as trying to play a hand in turning around one of the most iconic race teams in NASCAR history.
Former Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief, Scott Graves will be the crew chief for Newman and the No. 6 team this upcoming season. As far as sponsorship goes, Wyndham Rewards should be back with the No. 6 team again as they signed a multi-year deal this past year. Oscar Meyer will also adorn the hood of the Mustang in 2019 as well.
The rest of the sponsorship package hasn’t been announced just yet, and there have been rumors for several months that AdvoCare — which was signed through at least 2019 — would be moving with former RFR driver Trevor Bayne wherever he ends up going.
I am not sure what to expect from Newman in 2019. He has all the talent in the world, and he has shown in the past when the equipment is right, he can contend for wins and championships. It will all depend on where the RFR team is equipment-wise when this year starts. That being said, I expect Newman to record at the very least one top-five finish this season, something he didn’t do in 2018.