Newman Not Resting On Laurels

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Ryan Newman doesn’t have to worry about answering questions about the timing of his first Winston Cup Series victory anymore. He’s already put that behind him with a win at New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago.

And by most people’s expectations, Newman isn’t supposed to keep winning. After all, he’s just a rookie still, and even one victory during your first full season in Winston Cup is cause for celebration.

Another thing to be thrilled about is the fact that Newman leads the series with 13 top-five finishes, another unheard of statistic for a rookie.

But if you think Newman is just going to sit on those statistics, you can forget it. The driver of the No. 12 ALLTEL Ford is far too competitive and too ambitious to get complacent.

In fact, his first Winston Cup victory was expected well before New Hampshire, and when it finally did happen, was just one step in Newman’s progression as a Winston Cup driver.

“It was just one more checkmark put on our list of goals,” said Newman, who is seventh in the Winston Cup points standings but leads Jimmie Johnson in he race for Raybestos Rookie of the Year. “It (his first win) was satisfying and gratifying, but it doesn’t answer any questions in the world. We need to go out and keep doing it. Just one’s not good enough, ever.”

Prior to his victory at New Hampshire, Newman had four runner-up finishes. He finished second at Richmond in the spring, Watkins Glen, Darlington and then Richmond again a few weeks away before the ALLTEL team found the right combination to get to victory lane at Loudon.

Newman is 225 points behind Mark Martin in the overall championship chase, but had it not been for circumstances beyond his control, things could be just a bit tighter for him, as they are with Johnson (Johnson is just 30 points out of the championship lead with eight races to go).

Early in the season, Newman had a stretch of four straight races where he was either involved in an accident or his car ran into engine or mechanical problems. He never finished higher than 37th in any of those events, and after a strong start in the first five races, Newman dropped like a rock in the points standings.

Since then it’s been a steady climb back toward the top, and eight top-five finishes in his last 11 races certainly hasn’t hurt his ascent. Tony Stewart (12) and Matt Kenseth (10) are the only other drivers with 10 or more top-five finishes this season.

“For the team, yeah, definitely, to be a rookie team and lead a stat like that is very special. But it’s not something you’d expect, I guess, that’s why it is special.”

And it’s statistics like that, that have helped the ALLTEL team continue to gain confidence week after week.

“Without a doubt, it’s huge for the team, whether you’re a team of 11 or a team of five or whatever,” Newman said. “There’s 100 people in our organization that devote their jobs, everything they do each day, to what I do on the race track, and it’s probably as big, if not bigger, than some other sports.”

Although Jeff Gordon is the defending champion of this weekend’s Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway, Newman may just be the man to beat considering his momentum and his performance in last year’s race. Newman finished second to Gordon, in just his sixth Winston Cup event, last September.

The runner-up finish at Kansas, however, opened a lot of eyes and it helped Newman gain a lot of respect around the Winston Cup circles heading into his rookie campaign this year.

“We were just trying to get laps at that point, in the Busch series, ARCA and Cup,” Newman said of his run at Kansas. “We had some success, hadn’t had a ton, but we struggled at some tracks and excelled at others, so we were going through a process at trying to make ourselves good at every place, and we accomplished a lot of that this year.

“It’s (Kansas Speedway) got some weird transitions in it, but it’s a pretty decent race track and I look for it to be a better race track once the asphalt gets a little older.”

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