Who’s the hottest driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series right now?
But ever so quietly, another is rattling off solid results, to the point that he’s becoming more and more of a threat when it comes to the Chase, a productive driver who can fly under the radar and still keep his team in Chase contention despite a lack of a win to bolster his prestige.
Three weeks ago, Ryan Newman didn’t have a top-5 finish to show for his season, his first as part of Richard Childress Racing. Now, entering the final off-week of the season, he has two — not to mention a seventh-place spot in the points.
And yet, despite a third at Kentucky and a fifth last week in New Hampshire, Newman is still an underdog in the eyes of many, and certainly not the first driver one thinks about when considering Richard Childress’ team. Rather than bring up Newman, there’s the hotshot new rookie in Austin Dillon, who may not be outperforming his compatriot in the No. 31 but certainly has the share of the attention because, well, he’s driving a No. 3 car in NASCAR.
Instead, Newman’s reception could be comparable to that of Paul Menard, who’s driven for Childress for a few years now and has been solid, if not unmemorable.
But lo and behold, Newman is the top driver points-wise at RCR, taking the distinction Kevin Harvick probably would have had if he was still with the team. Richard Childress Racing may not be having a tremendous season, but Newman’s slow rise — of late in particular — is showing that there’s still life in the team, something that could be harnessed if Newman and no one else from the organization makes the Chase.
Lately, it’s been looking like Newman will — and again, that’s while pretty much avoiding being part of the conversation at all times. Even still, his average finish of 10.7 over the last three races ties him for fifth best in the series (fourth among full-time drivers, since the ranking involves Michael McDowell‘s seventh at Daytona). Had he not come home 24th after getting involved in one of the many crashes at Daytona two weeks ago, he’d possibly be higher, maybe even challenging Keselowski for best over that period.
It’s important to note that while he seems to finally be coming on strong, it’s sort of been this way for Newman all season. He had five top-10 finishes prior to his first top 5s of the season and was sitting eighth in points, making him a quiet lock for the Chase at that point in time.
Now, while he lacks the constant top-10 finishes of Kenseth and is even lagging behind Menard in both top 5s and top 10s, Newman’s beginning to peak at the correct time and could easily be the one to tie one’s bet to when the Chase hits, since both Menard and Dillon are still winless as well but a bit further down in the standings.
Of course, interestingly, all three are in the Chase as it stands entering Indianapolis, a byproduct of solid but not showy results throughout the year.
Newman leads that charge from Childress’ team, but it’s looking like things might finally be on the upswing. He’s quietly becoming one of the series’ most consistent drivers and may be getting even better, perhaps ready to pull in the win that locks him in for good.
With an off-week on the menu right now, Newman’s hot streak could cool off considerably before Indianapolis. But if it doesn’t, he could be a prime suspect if one needs a dark horse candidate for the championship in 2014.