2011 Ride: No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
2011 Primary Sponsor: US Army
2011 Owner: Tony Stewart
2011 Crew Chief: Tony Gibson
2011 Stats: 36 starts, 1 win, 9 top fives, 17 top 10s, 3 poles, 0 DNFs, 10th in points
High Point: Stewart-Haas Racing completed a 1-2 finish at New Hampshire in July, with Newman holding off the No. 14 car of his teammate and owner Tony Stewart for his only win in 2011. It was his third win at the 1-mile track in his career.
Low Point: After some mediocre finishes early on in the Chase put the championship hopes for the No. 39 in serious jeopardy, a spin at Talladega while drafting with Stewart relegated the No. 39 to a 38th-place finish and effectively out of title contention.
Summary: Sometimes it seems if Newman raced every other week, he’d be a champion. As is often the case, inconsistency ruled the day for the No. 39 team in 2011, as it seemed to go from three or four top-five runs to two or three finishes in the low 20s.
After a 22nd-place finish in the Daytona 500, Newman scored four straight top 10s, with three fifth-place finishes among them, putting him second in the standings after five races. But this was followed by four straight races in which Newman failed to finish higher than 14th; in fairness, Stewart-Haas as a whole was struggling at that point.
Newman would have up-and-down periods all season long. After three 15th or worse finishes, he scored a ninth at Pocono and a sixth at Michigan; this was followed by a 25th at Infineon and a 23rd at Daytona. The driver of the No. 39 did make a trip to victory lane once this year, his third win at New Hampshire. But from there, back came the ups and downs: 12th at Indianapolis, fifth at Pocono, 16th at Watkins Glen, fifth at Michigan and so on.
In the end, while it was all good enough for a Chase berth, Newman cooled off the most in 2011 just as his teammate and owner turned white hot and took a championship. A mishap-filled finish of 25th at Loudon, followed by finishes of 23rd at Dover and 18th at Kansas dropped the No. 39 to 11th in the standings and all but out of title contention.
From there, Newman would score only three top 10s, with a fifth-place finish at Phoenix being his best in the Chase. He did put on an impressive show at Martinsville though, charging from 20th after being spun to finish 10th in the last 22 laps.
One thing Newman did do well, though, was stay on the track. Newman completed 99.3% of the laps run in 2011, a very impressive total. This was probably in part due to the durability of Hendrick engines but could also be attributed to Newman’s skill as a driver; rarely are wrecks of his making.
Team Ranking: Second. Not hard to finish second of a two-team operation, but it would have been pretty difficult to top teammate Stewart’s Chase performance.
Off-Track News: The No. 39 team added Outback Steakhouse as an addition sponsor for 2012; in addition to US Army and two others, this puts the No. 39 team on solid financial footing for 2012.
2012 Outlook: It’s not known whether the speed found by his teammate in the 2011 Chase will translate to success on the track for the No. 39 team in 2012. It surely didn’t seem to help at the end of 2011. But with the team likely remaining intact and Hendrick supplying the engines, chances are Newman could be poised for a strong run in 2012. The team needs only to stay on from week to week; it’s got the equipment and the driver.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: D
2007 Grade: C
2008 Grade: D
2009 Grade: B+
2010 Grade: C
2011 Grade: B
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