As one of NASCAR’s elder statesmen, Ryan Newman is blazing a path few are willing to take any more. The 2008 Daytona 500 winner will again be behind the wheel of the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Ford this weekend at the Homestead Miami Speedway.
It will mark his final scheduled start of the year in the Ware machine. Now in the twilight of his career, the 45-year-old is far removed from his days when he sat on top of NASCAR’s mountain. Known as Rocketman for his blistering speed in qualification, he earned a reputation for driving the best racecars for the best teams with the biggest sponsors … and he won the biggest races. But as his competitive opportunities dried up, Newman has done something many veterans of the sport have chosen not to do: keep racing.
Nearly seven years after his last win, he is still out there, but the days of living up to the Rocketman moniker are well in the rearview. RWR is small. It has little funding. Newman is often at the bottom of the time sheet. Once a NASCAR superstar, most never even know that he is even in the race nowadays.
Even though many eyebrows were raised at this weeks Xfinity Series entry list, it should come as no surprise that Newman is entered this weekend for a second race with a second back-marker team. MBM Motorsports is so under-resourced that the organization fights just to even make race every weekend. For many, it would baffle the mind if a Super Bowl champion came back well into his golden years and took a few snaps at your local Division III college, but that is what Newman does.
Why would a former superstar chose to be at the bottom of the barrel? Matt Kenseth openly stated that he would never drive for a less-then-competitive team after he was let go from a powerhouse team. Greg Biffle turned down numerous lower budget organizations that came calling. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr cruised into the sunset with the best equipment under the hood and logos of the biggest companies still stitched into their fire suits.
Then there is Newman. He’s a superstar hiding in a nondescript, all black firesuit that just happens to show up to a race every now and then. But even when he had a top ride, he’d show up time to time in a for a race in the developmental ranks wearing a blank firesuit. He’s wheeled cars for underfunded owners like Jordan Anderson, James Finch and Brad Means several times before.
Some may say that Newman may be overstaying his welcome. However, it is easy to say that he truly loves the art of racing, so much so that he would rather sacrifice his competitive pride and run 25th in an ancient Xfinity car. He does it because it means he would continue to have a seat behind the wheel.
While many modern drivers like Kenseth and Biffle have chosen competitive pride over additional career-prolonging seat time, it used to be much more common for star drivers to race well beyond their prime.
Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip raced for eight seasons after their last wins. Fellow Hall of Famers Terry Labonte, Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte competed well over a decade after their final victories for several very underfunded organizations.
Others like Geoff Bodine, Morgan Shepherd and Mike Skinner even resorted to start and parking just so they could stay behind a steering wheel. Even though Newman is far from a start and park driver (MBM has plans to run the full race this weekend), he may be the last superstar to truly stay well beyond his prime.
With more and more drivers choosing early retirements, the golden years of drivers’ careers may be going extinct. It is why Newman’s presence this year has been refreshing. No, he will not win races, but we all know he is out there because he loves what he is doing.
While this is not an indictment by any means, we are left to wonder why more superstars today are not like him or the ones who came before him. Do many drivers get enjoyment from racing when there not competitive? In previous generations, this was likely the case. Today, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Kenseth has already told us that.
Will Ryan Newman be the last former superstar to truly stay well past his prime? Only time will tell.
About the author
Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.
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