After 20 years, championship quest still drives Ryan Newman

Ryan Newman might be in limbo when it comes to his career plans for 2022—but there’s still unfinished business for the 43-year-old racer.

Newman won the All-Star Race in 2002—his first Cup win in NASCAR. Newman also won the 50th running of the Daytona 500 in 2008 and delivered Roger Penske his first Harley J. Earl trophy. And Newman dazzled his home state fans with his Brickyard 400 victory in 2013.

But at the top of his bucket list remains the NASCAR Cup championship.

“That’s always been my ultimate goal from the time I was in elementary school,” Newman said.  “That’s on my radar still and will always be on my radar, whether I achieve it or not because that’s just the nature of the beast when it comes to the competitiveness of what we do, so I don’t know.

“I don’t know what all the steps will be, but, ultimately, that’s where my mind and heart will always want to be.”

In 2014, Newman was close enough to taste the title. After advancing to the Championship 4 in the inaugural year of NASCAR's elimination format, he lost the season finale by a half-second to Kevin Harvick in a three-lap shootout to the finish.

Newman’s status for next year remains up in the air as the rumors of Brad Keselowski joining Roush Fenway Racing ramp up. When asked what he knew regarding his status, Newman said, “I don’t know. I got a cliff notes version and didn’t read it before I got on this call.”

One thing is for certain, Newman is not resigned to sitting on the sidelines and adopting spectator status just yet.

“The reality is I’m way past the point of being more successful than a failure,” Newman said. “After 700-plus starts and only 18 wins, there’s not enough life in me to try to get that back to a 50-50 number, but you’re right. I feel like I’ve been so close with the Coke 600 and so close with the Southern 500, a championship, a road course win -- all those things that I’ve been second in, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but, at the same time, it’s not achieving the goals that I want and that’s really where I stand and where I sit.

“I don’t mean this in a bad way by any means, and  I think you know that knowing me, but I don’t want to have Mark Martin syndrome where you achieve a lot, but don’t always achieve the things that you say you wanted to achieve, but I think that’s the case for so many people.

There are guys in our sport that have not gotten their first top 10 or top 5, and to have 18 wins and as many poles as I have is special, but it’s a humbling sport and you’re never probably as successful as you think you can be or should be.”

Two years ago, Newman returned to the midget ranks at the 2020 Chili Bowl Nationals. He enjoyed the experience so much that he joined forces again with Tim Clauson this year. Like a lot of drivers that have come to NASCAR from USAC, Newman relished the opportunity to join the fold again.

“I had to knock off some rust that I had from over the years.  I never drove a midget like that and we talked about it at the Chili Bowl,” Newman said. “I never drove a midget like that with that much power to weight ratio and lifting the front tires off the ground. When I drove midgets back in ‘93 and ‘94 and ‘95, when I raced mostly on dirt then, or ran dirt as well as pavement is what I’m trying to say, and, for me, it was kind of just an opportunity.  I’m very thankful for Driven to Save Lives and Clauson Marshall Racing for giving me that opportunity to got there and do that.

“This past year I wasn’t as successful as I was the year before, but I had my kids there and they got the chance to see it and be a part of me racing in the Chili Bowl, which is a different kind of special, but it’s just racing.  You’ve always heard me say this too, I admire guys that can drive anything anywhere at any time like the A.J. Foyts and the Tony Stewarts and now the Kyle Larsons of the world.  That’s just the way I look at it.  It’s just a part of what my makeup is and I’ve always looked at myself as a racer, not a stock car racer, or a midget racer, or go-kart racer, or a quarter-midget race, just a racer, and if I’ve got an opportunity to jump in something that’s good, I’ll strap the helmet on and do it.”

While Newman isn’t sure whether he’ll return to Tulsa next January, he’s hoping to race the BC39 when the USAC midgets return to the dirt track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 18-19.

“I want to be able to do it some more, but it’s got to be the right time and the right place because I’ve always said, and you’ve heard this before, that I won’t take away from what we do in the Cup garage,” Newman said. “That’s been a challenge in more ways than one with the lack of practice and all the things that we have to do now with the simulators and whatever else, so I want to be the best person, the best driver I can be.”

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