By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Ryan Newman has made it into the Chase for the Sprint Cup field in each of the past three seasons, and two years ago he nearly won the championship. But with two races remaining until the 2016 Chase begins, Newman finds himself in a precarious position — outside the cutoff line.
In the midst of a 112-race winless drought, Newman finds himself 15 points behind Jamie McMurray for the final Chase Grid position.
Heading into Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Newman was clinging onto the 16th position in the Chas Grid by way of points. However the worst case scenario bit Newman and his Richard Childress Racing team, Kyle Larson — who was outside the top-16 of the point standings — leapfrogged into the Grid by winning the race.
As Larson crossed the line for the win, Newman who had top-10 speed was mired back in the 17th position.
“Luke Lambert and the Freightliner team definitely improved our Chevy over the course of today’s race. They worked hard all race long to adjust to the slick conditions that were out there. We raced in the top-16 for the first half of the race but then made big gains to climb into the top-10 and to be honest, that’s really what I was expecting for our finish,” said Newman. “On the final restart, we lined up 11th in the low line and it really hurt us. The line stalled and it resulted in a sub-par finishing position. We were a much better car than 17th.”
As the smoke settled from Larson’s victory burnout, Newman and his crew chief Luke Lambert realized that they can’t waste any time trying to battle back into Chase contention. Newman, in order to make the Chase for a fourth-consecutive season, will have to out-point McMurray over the next two races at Darlington and Richmond, or he will have to do something he hasn’t accomplished since 2013 — win a race. Newman is confident heading into Darlington (his favorite track) that he can still secure a position in the championship battle.
“I’m looking forward to Darlington Raceway next week. It’s my favorite track so I hope it’s where we can clinch a Chase spot,” Newman said in a team press release.
For the guys behind Newman in the standings, who aren’t currently in the Chase Grid like Kasey Kahne, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Blaney and others, the formula is even easier. They all basically must win if they want to compete for a championship.
Here is a look at the Chase Grid after Michigan:
- Brad Keselowski (4 wins) z
- Kyle Busch (4 wins) z
- Kevin Harvick (2 wins) z
- Carl Edwards (2 wins) z
- Denny Hamlin (2 wins) z
- Jimmie Johnson (2 wins) z
- Matt Kenseth (2 wins) z
- Kurt Busch (1 win) z
- Joey Logano (1 win) z
- Martin Truex Jr. (1 win) z
- Kyle Larson (1 win) z
- Tony Stewart (1 win) z
- Chris Buescher (1 win) y
- Chase Elliott (27 points ahead of cutoff) x
- Austin Dillon (21 points ahead of cutoff) x
- Jamie McMurray (15 points ahead of cutoff) x
z= Chase Berth clinched
y= Chase Berth clinched if driver stays inside top-30 of point standings
x= Driver not clinched but currently in Chase by way of points