Newman On The Block

CONCORD, N.C. – According to Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman’s life is about to change drastically.

And why not? On Saturday night, Newman became only the second rookie in Winston Cup Series history – Earnhardt Jr. was the first two years ago – to win the prestigious The Winston all-star event, at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Not only did the victory net Newman a paltry $750,000 first prize, but it was also the first triumph of his young Winston Cup Series career, albeit in a non-points event.

Earnhardt Jr. should know what he’s talking about. He became the first rookie driver ever to win The Winston, in 2000, and although he was headed for superstardom anyway, that gave him a big push in that direction.

“It’s a huge win,” Earnhardt Jr. said of Newman’s victory Saturday night. “And it’s an awful lot of money. The money makes the victory even more prestigious. A few years ago, this victory wouldn’t have meant shit.

“It would have worn off long ago if we were racing for $200,000, but we’re not. This will give Ryan so much confidence in himself and his team, and he’ll carry that over for the rest of the year.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished third in The Winston Saturday night, agrees with Earnhardt Jr.’s assessment of Newman.

“It does install a little confidence in your team and a little bit in yourself because if everything goes right and you have a good piece underneath, you then you can win races at the highest level,” Kenseth said.

“Ryan probably has a lot of confidence in himself and his team already because of the way they’ve already run this year. Since he got in stock cars last year, he’s been hauling the mail everywhere. Obviously he knew he could win, but now that he’s done that, he’s going to feel that much better. It’s probably not good for the rest of us, because he’s going to be tough all the time.”

Newman said he doesn’t expect life to be altered for him, but victories like his on Saturday night tend to bring about bigger and better things, such as more endorsements, etc.

“I don’t know about that, it sounds like I better talk to Junior,” Newman said. “I’m sure I’ll be treated a little differently now by the fans and by the people around me. Maybe I’ll have gained a little bit more respect. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, win races, and beat the best.

“I’m sure I’ll get a little bit of extra attention, and it’s something personally I’ll have to deal with. But I take that as a compliment. The main thing to me, though, is the feeling that I know I beat the best and that I can beat the best. That’s maybe going to be the biggest change for me from here on out.”

Newman still has yet to win a points race, but don’t put him in the category of a Michael Waltrip just yet. Waltrip won the 1996 The Winston, but it took Waltrip over 450 points races during his career to get to victory lane (the 2001 Daytona 500).

Newman has already won a Winston Cup pole and appeared on his way to victory lane a couple of weeks ago at Richmond before Tony Stewart overtook him in the final few laps.

Newman matured a lot in that race, but appeared to have grown up as a Winston Cup driver in a huge capacity after holding off a hard-charging Earnhardt Jr. in the final two laps of The Winston Saturday night. Earnhardt Jr. had fresher tires after pitting during a caution with five laps to go and coming from near the back of the 10-car pack.

In addition, Newman had a long night, having to advance through the No Bull Sprint – a 16-lap “last chance” race – just to get into The Winston after finishing third in The Winston Open.

He started in the 27th and final position in The Winston, finished in the 20th and final transfer spot in the first segment of The Winston, and finished seventh in the second segment.

After all, Newman wasn’t about to let Junior get by him.

“Catching Ryan was easy, passing him was a different story,” Earnhardt Jr. “This was a huge amount of money, and I could have spun him out. But, it wasn’t worth pissing off a bunch of people to do it. It would have been a bittersweet victory.”

“That was just good, hard racing,” Newman said. “You know, he had four tires that were fresher than mine, and that makes a big difference at this racetrack. I just had to do all I could to hold him off. He caught up with me with about two laps to go, cut underneath me a couple of times, but he just couldn’t complete the pass. It was just good, hard racing, real clean. He’s first class today because he could have taken advantage of a good situation for him there.”

Newman will return to Lowe’s Motor Speedway next weekend, where he will defend his Coca-Cola 600 pole. He hopes to do much better in the race, however, after wrecking and finishing 43rd last May.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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