HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Story by Race Chaser Online Mid-Atlantic Correspondent Marshall Gabell – Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America photo –
Sometimes the underdog can prevail. (Well, almost.)
It didn’t quite happen on Sunday during the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Miami-Speedway, but it left many people in the garage feeling optimistic after Richard Childress Racing newcomer Ryan Newman barely missed out on his first-career championship following a second place finish to Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick.
Hailing from South Bend, Indiana, Newman had a chance to capitalize on a late-race restart, but Harvick’s four tires and the No. 31’s slide off turn four coming to the white flag snuffed out his hopes at the crown.
“If we were close enough on the last lap, it might have been a different game, but I wasn’t,” Newman explained in the media center. “I slipped off of Turn 4 coming to the white, and at that point it was pretty much over. I really was hoping he would slip a tire, blow a motor, something like that, that was our only hope. All those things go through your mind.”
Joining Childress this season after his tenure with Stewart-Haas, Newman earned his team their best points finish since the late Dale Earnhardt (second in 2000) after a heroic run during the inaugural season of the Chase Grid. Newman entered the Chase as the 16th and final seed and then slipped by Kyle Larson on the last lap at Phoenix to advance to the Championship Round by a single point.
“I was happy (with) the situation I was in,” Newman commented. “You live for the moment and you drive as hard as you can. We didn’t have quite enough. That’s disappointing, but like I said, it was an awesome team effort, and I think, again, this is a great racetrack to have a race like this, and I thought there was some amazing passing, and we don’t get that at every racetrack.
Newman also improved his best points finish from sixth to second and experienced his first-ever involvement in a championship race at Homestead – a race he will never forget.
“For me personally, it’s the first real championship I’ve been in position to lose,” Newman expressed in a content state-of-mind. “I think Denny (Hamlin) has been close before with the Chase format, but this is the first time I barely had a shot of anything within the last season or the last couple seasons, I guess you could say.”
Grasping for straws and a reason as to what went wrong, Newman would blame (in a joking manner) Jeff Gordon for disallowing his initial championship after Gordon was unable to knock Harvick from the Chase Grid last weekend in Phoenix.
“I was thinking after I got out of the car, our tables really turned if you think about it when Gordon didn’t win Phoenix because if he’d have won Phoenix, Harvick would have been out and we’d have been the top guy at the end of the race,” a joking Newman said. “I blame all this on Jeff Gordon! (laughter).”
Although it wasn’t the ending result that NASCAR’s ‘Rocket Man’ wanted, he is still shocked and humbled with how much his team has improved and built a strong relationship with over the past 36-races.
“It was fun from my standpoint to come from where we came from this year,” Newman said. “We started the season in Daytona getting spun out in the last five laps to being the runner-up for the championship. It was a good rebound for us.”
Newman now turns his attention towards next season, and he strives to hold a sportsman’s attitude despite a heartbreaking finale.
“I’m just so proud of our team. Luke (Lambert) and the guys did an awesome job,” Newman stated. “We came back from the entire season to make our best finish our last finish. It is disappointing, don’t get me wrong, but there’s no point in being a sore loser. It’s some motivation, some momentum for the off-season to get started for Daytona, and just look forward to the opportunity for next year.