RICHMOND, Va. — One important goal down, one more to go.
Ryan Newman crossed one objective off this week’s to-do list Thursday, re-signing with Stewart-Haas Racing to drive the No. 39 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season. His next focus is landing that car in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs with a victory in Saturday night’s regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway.
Newman’s status for 2013 had become a source of speculation. After recording his lone win of the season in April at Martinsville, Newman skidded from a high-water mark of eighth to his current 17th-place ranking in the Sprint Cup standings. During that stretch, the U.S. Army announced that it would discontinue its relationship with his SHR team after the season.
Newman, who joined the seven other Chase wild-card contenders in meeting the media at the .75-mile track Thursday, said that he had had informal conversations with other teams, but opted to remain with the team that’s been his home since 2009.
“I guess it’s maybe like fishing in a pond. Every once in a while you cast in different directions just to see if you get a bite,” Newman said “. . . But you have the one place you keep going back to, and I have always had a lot of respect and am thankful for the opportunity that Stewart-Haas Racing gave me.”
On Newman’s to-do list in the long term is the search for sponsorship, which he called “all a work in progress.”
“I feel fairly confident that we’ll have good branding on the car,” Newman said. “I can’t sit here and say exactly who it’s going to be or how it’s going to lay out.”
Of immediate concern is Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400, where Newman has an opportunity to right the ship and qualify for the Chase through the wild-card process. The top nine in points are already locked in, and the 10th-place driver — team co-owner and teammate Tony Stewart — is assured of at least a wild-card spot reserved for the two drivers in positions 11-20 with the most wins.
Newman held the provisional No. 2 wild-card slot just three weeks ago after Michigan, but crashes at Bristol (where he finished 36th) and Atlanta (35th) the last two weeks have dropped him four places in the standings.
The DNFs have produced a must-win situation at Richmond, but Newman suggests that winning at all cost isn’t his game plan.
“As simple and as stupid as it sounds, we’re here to win. That’s what we have to do, that’s our goal,” Newman said. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m going to do absolutely everything and crash anybody out of the way, just to give us the opportunity because that’s not the way I race or who I am. We need to put ourselves in position as a true competitor and a respectful competitor to get the job done.”