By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 18
Career Wins: 18
A team change can go two ways in the NASCAR Cup Series. The driver will either flourish or crumble into pieces. Ryan Newman certainly flourished and brought the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang squad its best overall season in over a decade.
After missing the playoffs for the second time in three years, Newman moved on from Richard Childress Racing to join RFR which proved to be a renaissance campaign.
Not only Newman made the playoffs over Jimmie Johnson, who missed the playoffs for the first time ever, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Daniel Suarez, and obliterated his teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., he finished in the top-15 in points for the first time since 2015.
Before Newman joined, the No. 6 was on a massive decline with Trevor Bayne failing to capitalize on his quick rise to stardom that was his 2011 Daytona 500 win, to the point Matt Kenseth came out of retirement and help team head back into a modest direction.
Turned out that having an experience veteran that will provide car development and race anyone hard, will get the team places. More so when the equipment isn’t frequently destroyed compared to his teammate.
This past year alone, Newman’s aggression was evident, no matter the situation such as the Bristol Night Race that hurt Matt DiBenedetto’s shot of winning because Newman was trying to stay on the lead lap.
The 2008 Daytona 500 champion’s most memorable race of 2019 may be the fall Talladega race. Newman came just 0.007 seconds shy of bringing the No. 6 its first win since July 2011 at Daytona and his first since Phoenix in March 2017. Fellow Ford driver Ryan Blaney was the man who eked out Newman for the race win.
While those two races come into race fans minds, at times the 42-year-old goes unnoticed until the very end that occasionally translates into top-10 finishes. Something the No. 6 team hasn’t seen consistently since David Ragan’s tenure (2007-11) or as further as Mark Martin (1988-2006).
While Newman was eliminated after the Round of 16, it was still an improving campaign that saw finish 15th in points with three top-fives, 14 top-10s and an average finish of 14.6 to his name. It was also the team’s best since Ragan in 2008 when he too scored 14 top-10s.
Despite contributing to the team’s turnaround, Newman knows they can do much better that could slowly get RFR back to its once glory that was the 1990s and early 2000s.
“We accomplished a lot and progressed a lot,” Newman said. “If you look at our numbers and stats, we got better and better, but not good enough, which was my biggest disappointment. We got to a point where we could run in the top-10 and we were getting some stage points and we were always at our best at the end.
“We weren’t as good as we should’ve been off the truck or at the end of stage one, but I was proud of the team effort and all the things we worked through because of all the newness and all the uniqueness of what happened this year.”
Newman added that 2019 will go down as a year of learning as he tried understanding the new rules package which contributed to his self-disappointment.
“Thinking back the last 19 years of my career, we never took downforce off of a car to make it go faster and everybody learned that this year,” Newman said. “All the things that went along with the new package, for me a new organization, new manufacturer, new car with that manufacturer, the horsepower part of it, and sort of how you drive the car, I’m just really proud of everything we accomplished, yet still disappointed that we didn’t accomplish more.”
Heading into his 19th full Cup season and 21st overall, Newman will have Chris Buescher as his new teammate while Stenhouse joined Buescher’s old team, JTG Daugherty Racing.
Additionally, Newman doesn’t credit himself as the sole reason why RFR looked better than in previous years. The credit goes to the entire No. 6 team such as crew chief Scott Graves that were able to get the momentum rolling.
“I don’t think I was the leader, I think it was a great team effort,” Newman said. “It was that core group of people – myself, Scott Graves, Kevin Kidd and Tommy Wheeler – that pushed when somebody gave me an answer that wasn’t good enough, or when I ran a lap that wasn’t good enough. Those types of things to be better and try to accomplish more.
“We totally missed it at certain racetracks at certain times, but I felt like in general – 80-90 percent of the time when we came back a second time at the same track – we were better and I look forward to starting next season close to the same rules, having the opportunity to being even better yet.”