If Stewart extends an invitation to dine before this weekend’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 Sprint Cup race, Newman can probably look forward to having his Whopper without a side order of angst.
Newman, 33, is off to his best start to a season since his rookie year of 2002 and, more important in terms of lunch with the boss, by far the best start in his two-plus seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing.
“It’s been a really great start for our season by our standards that we set in the past two years—which we weren’t proud of. But we always knew we were capable of more,” Newman said.
Newman, who has one victory and one Chase appearance at Stewart-Haas, is second in points this week—nine behind leader Carl Edwards.
Through five races, Newman has three top-five finishes and four top 10s. He has led laps in all but one of the five races. In the Daytona 500, site of his worst finish of 22nd, he led the most laps—37.
“I keep saying it,” Newman said, “but I’m really just so proud of everything that Stewart-Haas Racing has accomplished in these first five races.”
The difference from a year ago, when Newman had four top fives the entire season and finished 15th in points and without a berth in the Chase? Several things, he said. Some tangible, some not.
“I think the team as a whole has done a good job of having cars that are performing well, so that we are in a better position,” Newman said. “Our pit crew has done a much better job this year to open the season than it has in the past.”
And on the intangible side, luck.
“I know we’ve been on the good side of some luck,” Newman said. “Even with the little bit of bad luck we had at Daytona, we led the most laps. Then, for instance, the crash that happened off Turn 2 in Phoenix. I was in the middle of everything but came out of it with just a little minor damage. The year before that, or the year before that, we honestly would have been caught up in that wreck.”
If luck remains with Newman this week at Martinsville, things should go well for him. In his past four races at NASCAR’s shortest oval, he has three top-seven finishes. His average finish in 18 career starts at Martinsville is 14.3.
“I like the short tracks,” Newman said. “I like having the character added to the program of modulating the brake. In my opinion, the driver has a little more of an impact on the end result at short tracks than some of the bigger racetracks, and I like that. The more the drivers are involved, the more I think you get to race, and from that standpoint, I think it’s more fun.”
There is a Burger King near the track. On East Church Street. But this year, if Newman and Stewart eat there, Stewart will undoubtedly be picking up the check.
“If I make him buy when it’s Burger King, he’ll know something is up,” Stewart said at Daytona in February.
The only thing “up” for Newman at this point in the season is his performance. Way up.