Newman hoping to end Penske run on high note

Published 1:11 pm Wednesday, October 1, 2008

This is not the farewell to Penske Racing that Ryan Newman had imagined.

Eight months ago, when Newman started the year by shocking the field at the Daytona 500, he didn’t think he’d end it by sitting out the Chase for the championship and counting the days until he moved from Penske to Tony Stewart’s upstart Stewart-Haas Racing team.

Yet Newman heads into this weekend’s race at Talladega trying to end his tenure with the only Sprint Cup team he’s known on a positive note while trying to get a handle on what awaits him next season.

“We’re working on the people part of it,” Newman said. “I’m definitely excited about next year. But I’m totally focused on the Alltel Dodge for this year. We have seven races to go. We have some good racetracks to go to. I’m just trying to balance both situations and both scenarios so I can be successful at both.”

Success has been hard to come by this year for the 30-year-old Newman, who hoped the win at Daytona signaled a return to the series’ upper echelon.

It didn’t happen. Newman slipped out of the top 12 less than a dozen races into the season and hasn’t had a top-five finish since April. He spent most of the year on the Chase bubble, and the bubble burst during a long, frustrating stretch in which he couldn’t muster any momentum. Newman floated between spots 14-17 in the season points standings over the summer and missed the Chase for the third straight year by finishing 16th in the regular season.

Newman refuses to blame any one factor, though his struggles have been symbolic of Dodge’s problems this season, in which one of the sport’s leading manufacturers didn’t have one of its cars make the Chase.

“Not just one thing is responsible for lack of performance,” he said. “For me, we had some engine failures … (but) we should have been able to make the Chase. It’s easy to have excuses in this business.”

Maybe, but Newman admits his team has struggled with the series’ new car.

“It’s been difficult to find that fine line and then stay on top of it,” Newman said. “We’ve done it at a couple of tracks. We had a good car at Bristol. We had a good car at Phoenix. Our mile-and-a-half efforts have been below average as far as what we expect for performance.”

Dodge is using some of the late-season races to try out a new engine, though Newman isn’t sure he’ll have one in his No. 12 this weekend. He’ll be driving the No. 39 Chevrolet at Stewart-Haas next season and doubts Dodge would use him as a guinea pig to try out the new ride.

“I’m not sure what the long-term goals are with the new engine for Dodge and Penske,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be any part of it.”

Newman isn’t bitter. He understands it’s just part of the business and hopes he’ll have enough car to compete at Talladega. He finished a respectable eighth there during the spring race and likes running at a track more dependent on patience and horsepower than handling.

“You almost have to wait your turn if you’re not in that group that’s running in the top five,” he said. “The ability to stay calm and not overreact (is important). You have to be totally predictable of what might happen.”

It helps to be a video game junkie. Newman admits he used to spend time in front of the TV playing the latest NASCAR video game in an effort to get to know the tracks better.

“You can get a good idea of balancing your race car, driving your race car, picking out the lines where the wall comes to you and where the wall falls away and things like that,” he said.

It’s almost game over for Newman at Penske. He’s hoping for one last push before hitting the reset button at Stewart-Haas.