It’s hard to imagine that it has been two decades since Roush Fenway’s Ryan Newman first fired his engine in what was the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
Now in 2021, Newman will mark a career milestone heading into Kansas, by starting his 700th NASCAR Cup Series race.
“Seven-hundred starts means I’m old and that’s okay, but it’s a milestone no doubt,” Newman said. “It just shows that I’m experienced, lost more than I’ve won just like everybody else in this sport, and it’s pretty cool to still be doing something this long that I’m so passionate about.”
The South Bend, Indiana driver’s Cup Series career began with Roger Penske, piloting the No. 02 Alltel Ford Taurus for two seasons on a part-time schedule. He moved into a full-time seat in 2002, in the No. 12 Ford with Alltel and Mobil 1 joining the effort. It wasn’t too long before he would grab his first checkered flag at Fontana in April of 2002.
However it wasn’t his Sunday performances that were turning heads (both literally and metaphorically), it was his qualifying speeds. Newman captured a whopping six poles in 2002, and nearly doubled that number in 2003, with 11. Famously dubbed “the Rocketman”, Newman was always a pole favorite, no matter the track, no matter the conditions. From 2002 to 2005, he amassed an impressive 34 pole awards for Team Penske. From intermediates, to short tracks, he was particularly dominate at Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, and Loudon just to name a few. Not only was he obtaining pole awards, he was obliterating track records in the process. The aforementioned Atlanta only saw the name “Ryan Newman” as the pole sitter for six consecutive races from 2003 to 2005.
His Sunday performances took a sharp spike in 2003, winning a total of eight races on seven different tracks. That season featured a Dover sweep, and a sixth place finish in the final standings.
After scoring a Daytona 500 victory for Roger Penske in 2008, Newman would move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, helping to bring four wins and six poles to the newly formed team. Newman also delivered SHR their first Brickyard 400 victory in 2013 after starting… where else – but on pole. He would move over to the No. 31, vacated by Jeff Burton, for a five-year stint with Richard Childress Racing. This would kick off both a win, and pole drought for Newman. He wouldn’t visit victory lane again until Phoenix in 2017, bringing the No. 31 back to glory for the first time since 2008.
He joined Roush Fenway Racing in 2019, bringing home 14 top-ten finishes in his debut season for the team. 2020 would arguably become a moment in Newman’s career many fans may never forget after a horrific crash hospitalized him just one race into the 2020 season. Miraculously just a few days later, he walked on his own two feet with his daughters in hand.
His mark on NASCAR goes beyond his on-track performance however. Newman indirectly has likely saved multiple drivers lives during his career, thanks to a crash of his own in 2009. After flipping at Talladega, Newman began advocating for more safety implementations on the Car Of Tomorrow due to cars becoming more prone to airborne wrecks.
Following the crash, NASCAR would implement a brand new chassis component, later dubbed the “Newman bar”, a new bar to the front of the roll cage above the drivers head. The bar got put to use by Newman himself in 2013 after a car flipped and landed on top of Newman’s car. The new component to the car has been put to the test on multiple occasions since 2009.
With Newman’s start on Sunday in Kansas, he’ll become the third active Cup Series driver with more than 700 starts in their career. Former teammates Kevin Harvick, and Kurt Busch hold their place above with what will become 729,and 731 starts respectively. Kyle Busch, at 580 starts, sits fourth in the ranking. He also becomes the 19th driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to achieve the 700 mark.
“It means they’re old too, but from a sport standpoint, we’ve established ourselves, both from our individual resumes and from a sponsorships standpoint,” Newman added. “We’ve kept people happy and the fans have been engaged with us for many years now. It’s cool to be a senior member and have that resume built, but I still have a lot of business that I want to get done.”
With his 700 start on Sunday, Newman will tie his mentor, Buddy Baker, for 18th on the all-time list. When asked about the tying the NASCAR legend, Newman didn’t even realize that was a possibility.
“I didn’t know Buddy Baker had 700 starts and that I’d tie him, but him being my mentor and driving coach (when I started) makes it even better,” Newman said. “That’s the most special part to me of reaching that number with having something in common with my hero in Buddy.”
It’s a milestone that even Newman wasn’t sure he’d ever see after not even finishing his first race in 2001, but later following that up with his first career pole.
“Looking back on it, I don’t know that I would’ve said I would be around for 700 starts; it’s crazy when you think about the number,” he said. “I remember back in that day Dave Marcis was logging lap after lap and that’s something I look back at – I don’t compare myself to him – but I know that was part of the sport that was a topic of discussion, so when I get my 700th I know it’ll come up, but I don’t know that I would have said or done anything different, just fortunate enough to still be doing it.”
How long will he continue to race? That’s a answer only he knows for now. But he’s cherishing the time he has spent in the sport, and his accomplishments.
“Throughout the many starts before it was a lot of hard work and effort from team support, sponsor support and fan support,” Newman said. “A lot of racing luck I guess you could say and some moderate levels of success for people to keep me in race cars and let me continue to do what I love. I’m thankful, but it’ll just be another start in the end and it’s just a number – but a special number for sure.”