From the start of Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ryan Newman’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff chances were in jeopardy.
He entered the final Monster Energy Series regular-season race tied with Daniel Suarez for the final berth in the postseason, and qualifying didn’t go as well as Newman had hoped. He was 22nd fastest in time trials, giving up two spots to Suarez at the outset.
But with astute pit calls by crew chief Scott Graves and a determined drive, Newman worked his way forward and ran consistently in the top 10.
Only one problem. By the time the field restarted after an eight-car wreck on Lap 105, Suarez had climbed from his 20th starting spot to fourth, and Newman’s chances to race for a championship were in dire peril.
But after Suarez made an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 126 because of a vibration, Newman’s prospects turned for the better. Suarez couldn’t recover from the ill fortune, and Newman secured the final Playoff spot with an eighth-place finish to Suarez’s 11th.
“Well, we weren’t by any means the fastest car,” said Newman, who is in his first season with Roush Fenway Racing. “Our Acorns Ford was really tight in traffic. I’m sure a lot of guys were, but I think we were one of the worst. Stage points kind of cancel each other out, but just excellent strategy by Scott Graves, everybody at Roush Fenway.
“It’s been a year of progress, a year of learning, a year of a lot of things. I’m more rookie this year than I’ve ever been, but an ice-cold Coke never tasted so good after these first 26 races.”
To be a contender in the Playoffs, Newman knows his No. 6 Ford Mustang team will have to improve its overall performance.
“I think we have a lot of work to do,” Newman said. “We’re by no means dominating led laps—qualified 22nd, finished 8th. We’ve showed that we can progress throughout the race, but we’ve got to start qualifying in the top 10 to be able to finish in the top five, and then we’ll prove that we’re made of more than what we’re showing.”