Compare lists of 2010 disappointments in Sprint Cup racing and you’ll likely find Ryan Newman right near the top on all of them.
After moving to Tony Stewart's new team in 2009, both Stewart and Newman made it to the postseason. That was a big surprise for a brand new team, but it also ratcheted up expectations for this season.
Unfortunately for Newman and his No. 39 Chevrolet team, their best finish in the first five races of 2010 was 16th, digging a hole from which Newman was never quite able to climb out of. He wound up the regular season 13th, missing NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup by 98 points.
Now, Newman considers job No. 1 building some momentum for next season. And it appears he’s getting that done.
He heads for Homestead this week coming off a second-place finish at Phoenix – the same track on which he got his only win this year. That gives Newman seven of his top-10 finishes this season in the last 12 races.
“The only thing better than going into the last race of the season with a second-place finish is leaving the final event with a first-place finish in our U.S. Army Chevrolet,” Newman said. ”It’s kind of been a hit and miss season for us, but we’ve always been on the edge of success.
“We didn’t make the Chase but we know that we are definitely Chase material and I am confident that it will be a different scenario in 2011.”
The late-season results have given everyone on the Stewart-Haas Racing team a boost in confidence. But there’s still work to be done, even if it is in the shadow of the closest points battle in NASCAR history.
“We’ve been better recently, no question about that,” Newman noted. “But we really want to finish off the season with something special, which will make the offseason more pleasant for the entire team.”
But driving his race car, as important as that is to Newman, isn’t the only thing on his mind these days.
He is about to become a father for the first time, with wife Krisse due any day now. Ron Hornaday Jr., who stood by last weekend at Phoenix in case of an early stork call, will again be on hand this weekend in Florida to step in, just in case.
“This is an exciting time for Krissie and me and if things work out where Ron will need to get in the car I know he will do a good job,” Newman said. “He did get some seat time in the No. 39 during a practice session in Phoenix.”
Unless he gets the call from Krissie, Newman knows his main focus this week has to stay on Homestead’s 1.5-mile oval, where he has two top-10 finishes in his previous eight starts.
“Homestead has not been one of my better tracks in terms of finishes, but I feel that can change this weekend,” Newman said. “The good news is that every week when we get to the track there is always a high degree of confidence and a high-degree of expectation.’’
Mike Harris was the long-time auto racing beat writer for the Associated Press and is now a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com. Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.