It would be the closest Newman would get to victory lane in 2009, which developed into a good but not great season for the first-year Stewart-Haas Racing driver.
“We need to improve one position from last year’s race, and it will be a super weekend,” Newman said. “As is the case with many of the drivers, Charlotte Motor Speedway ranks high on the list as one of my favorite tracks. This is home for many of us and where we want to shine.”
Flyin’ Ryan has eight poles but no wins at Charlotte (although he has finished in the top five four times since his Cup debut at the track in 2001).
Although Newman broke into the 2010 winners column last month at Phoenix, this season has been a mix of feast and famine. It didn’t help that he began the year with finishes of 34th at Daytona and 38th at Auto Club Speedway, thus digging a points hole from which he only recently has emerged.
Newman rolls into the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday in 13th in points, only one spot out of the Chase. He is 30 points behind 12th-place Martin Truex Jr. Newman’s teammate, Tony Stewart, is in 14th.
Both Newman and Stewart made the Chase last season in Stewart-Haas Racing’s first year, so their relatively slow start this season has been a bit surprising.
Sunday’s race will mark the halfway point in the 26-race run for Chase positions.
“There’s still a long way to go, but for us we want to get there [in the top 12] soon and stay there,” Newman said. “We’ve had some good runs lately but still need to step it up a few notches. There’s a number of good drivers not in the Chase right now, and that goes to show you how deep and competitive the field is this year.”
Six races ago, Newman was 22nd in points and in need of a definite surge to move into Chase contention. He got that boost, averaging a 12th-place finish over the past six races to jump to 13th in points.
“We’re doing what we need to do, and that is to trend in the right direction,” Newman said. “We just need to stay focused and never get satisfied.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEEDtv.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.