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NASCAR Season Preview: Ryan Newman

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#39 US Army/Quicken Loans/Tornados Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing

Born: December 8, 1977

Home: South Bend, Indiana

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Newman won a race for the second year in a row, this time at Loudon in July, and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With nine top fives and 17 top 10s on the season, he finished 10th in points. He was also one of only three drivers to go through the entire season without a DNF.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Starting the Chase in fifth position was Newman’s high for the entire 10-week run. Returning to Loudon in September, Newman could only muster a 25th place finish, dropping him to 11th out of 12, and he even spent three weeks in 12th before recovering in the final two races. Meanwhile, teammate and team owner Tony Stewart won five races and the title.

SEASON OUTLOOK: There’s no shock that Newman is the second option at Stewart-Haas to team owner Tony Stewart, especially because a third Sprint Cup title proves that Stewart remains at his peak. But the difference in quality of their respective Chase performances illustrated just how disparate the two drivers are. While Stewart came out of the gate hot and hung around the top the whole time, Newman plummeted by scoring only one top five all Chase and barely cracked the top 10 when all was said and done.

In the end, Newman may be a career “best of the rest” driver. He’s only won three races in the past four years, two since joining Stewart-Haas, and six since his breakout eight win season in 2003. Newman’s only advantage on his teammate is continuity atop the pit box, with Tony Gibson returning to lead the team once again. He can post consistent enough runs to make the Chase with the combination he has, and maybe even improve slightly with Greg Zipadelli as the team’s new competition director. But the sort of powerful late-season run that propelled Stewart to his championship may be out of the question.

– Chris Leone

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