By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
*Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for 24 drivers. We will release one driver preview per day over a 24-day stretch.
Years in Cup: 15
Career Wins: 17
Biggest Accomplishment: 2008 Daytona 500 Champion
2016 was a surprisingly inconsistent season for one of NASCAR’s most consistent drivers, but the good news for Ryan Newman is that he’ll have a chance to return to form in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) in 2017.
Newman’s return to RCR may be a given now, but it wasn’t for the better part of 2016. The South Bend, Ind., native spent as much of his 15th full-time season in the Cup Series fending off questions of his potential replacement on the team as he did holding off his fellow competitors on-track.
Though it’s impossible to know if the outside distractions affected him or not, statistically Newman wasn’t his typical self last season. The 39-year-old’s three DNFs were his most since coming to RCR in 2014, and his two top fives and 10 top 10s were the fewest he’d managed in each category since his difficult 2008 season with Team Penske.
Newman’s most memorable moment of the season was one he likely wants to forget. When he failed to make the Chase for the first time with RCR after crashing out of the regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway courtesy of Tony Stewart, Newman proceeded to go on a verbal attack of his former Stewart Haas Racing teammate and owner, calling his character into question and requiring NASCAR to make the two drivers sit down and discuss their incident later in the week.
Given that moment and his results on-track 2016 was collectively one of the worst seasons in Newman’s 15-year career.
Thankfully, though, it won’t be his last.
Thanks to a multi-year extension with RCR, Newman can rest easy in 2017 knowing that he’s not auditioning to keep his ride.
Newman returns to an organization that’s placed each of its three drivers (Newman, Paul Menard and Austin Dillon) in the Chase at least once in the three seasons since the creation of the new elimination format.
RCR hasn’t been the fastest team in the paddock –their zero wins since Kevin Harvick left the team after 2013 is evidence of that—but the organization’s cars have proven fast and durable enough to give their drivers an opportunity to make a playoff push each season.
For Newman, who famously came within one spot of winning the Cup Series championship in 2014, a return to form is all that’s required to return to the Chase.. If the Hoosier can manage that, the No. 31 team should be able to once again serve as a dark horse to make a trip to the Championship 4 based on their consistency.
That, along with a trip to Victory Lane to end the longest winless streak in Newman’s 15-year career (124 races), should be the ultimate goal for the No. 31 team in 2017.