Cerebral Newman needs more consistency to contend in Chase
By Joe Menzer, NASCAR.COM
December 07, 2011 4:38 PM, EST
Tony Stewart occupies a unique position as not only Ryan Newman's teammate but also his boss as a co-owner at Stewart-Haas Racing.
So when Tony talks, Ryan listens. But that doesn't mean Newman always agrees with what Stewart is saying.
During a light moment in Las Vegas during Champion's Week, as Stewart basked in the glory of being the 2011 Sprint Cup champion, the owner side of Stewart joked that Newman might be a more successful driver if Newman ceased "thinking so much" behind the wheel.
The gist was that Stewart believes that Newman, who owns a vehicle structure engineering degree from Purdue, sometimes second-guesses himself too much instead of simply relying on instinct.
Newman laughed later when he was asked if he thought there might be something to Stewart's observation.
"He's right when he says it," Newman said. "But it's the mind-set of an engineer to think everything out. If you don't have the answer or you think you have the answer and you might be able to come up with a better one, you're going to think it out. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't.
"His idea is to race on gut instinct and go with the spur-of-the-moment [attitude]. And that's the way he races. He's proven he's successful at that. But I don't think my second-guessing makes me a worse race car driver. I think if he tried a lot of my first guesses, maybe he'd do even better."
The bottom line, as Newman looked in the rear-view mirror at his own 2011 season, was that he simply lacked the consistency in the 10-race Chase to finish where he wanted.
As it was, Newman finished 10th in the point standings. His season included one win, three poles, nine top-five finishes and 17 top-10s. After winning at New Hampshire the first time around in July, he finished 25th at the track in the Chase. He also finished 23rd at Dover, 18th at Kansas and a miserable 38th at Martinsville in other Chase races.
So after rising as high as second in the points after three fifth-place finishes and four top-10 finishes overall in the first five races, his No. 39 Chevrolet team suffered through a slow decline that only picked up steam during the Chase, endangering its chances of finishing in the top 10 in points after residing there all season. It took a fifth-place finish in the next-to-last race of the season at Phoenix and a 12th in the season finale at Homestead to ensure that wouldn't happen.
"Our last two races, we were just starting to reboot a little bit," Newman said. "The middle section of the Chase was really tough on us, emotionally as well as on the performance side of things. Doing well in those last two races, that was big.
"That's what you build on in the offseason. You can build cars and move parts and pieces around. You can do different things. But carrying that somewhat of momentum -- and momentum for Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole obviously is huge -- is what's most important as you move from season to season."
Newman admitted that having his teammate win the championship is a boost for even his team, although it means only so much for the No. 39 group.
"From our side, it's a little bit separate," Newman said. "As the 39 team, we seem to have the ability to be able to fight back. What we have to do is put ourselves in a position where we don't have to fight back. If we can do a better job of consistently maintaining our track position -- where we don't have a bad pit stop or we don't have something happen where we get off-cycle because of a bad call or the yellow coming out at the wrong time, whatever it is -- you can put yourself in better positions. I think our cars are good. Obviously Tony proved that.
"That's part of what's disappointing from my side. You see him dominate the Chase, and we struggled to get one top-five [during the Chase]. I know we have to do some things on our side team-wise to make the right calls and do the right things to maybe let those other five [Chase] races [that Stewart didn't win] be our races. Let him keep his five and next time we'll take the other five."
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