Newman on the bubble
Ahead of finale, driver has shot at last Chase berth
The Bubble Boys in the NASCAR Chase are easy to find.
Tag, Ryan Newman, you’re it. You, too, Chris Buescher.
As for everybody else who feels the squeeze, all you need to do is think like a tennis player and hold serve.
Newman — a regular contender because of his consistency — is seven points behind Jamie McMurray for the final Chase spot heading into Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night. Points equal spots, so all McMurray needs to do is stay close to Newman to secure his spot, barring other extenuating circumstances and bonus points.
Buescher is likely in because of his weatheraided victory last month at Pocono but still needs to finish 30th or better in points to qualify. Buescher leads 31st-place driver David Ragan by 11 points.
Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott also seem likely to qualify based on points, barring any great misfortune.
Buescher is really the only outlier in the 16driver group at the moment. As for the rest of the gang, it’s the usual suspects minus Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is out for the season with concussion-related issues.
Newman, who drives for Richard Childress Racing, finished eighth at Darlington and was leading before he was passed by Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 339 of 367. Newman had made up quite a bit of ground after having had to drop to the rear of the field at the start of the race because of unapproved adjustments following the pre-race tech check. But that strong push won’t do him any good unless his team picks up the pace.
“Yeah, a good effort, but I mean guys have got to step it up in the pits,” Newman said after the Darlington race. “We try hard, but trying hard ain’t good enough when you are losing three spots at a time.”
It’s been a typical year for Newman — winless and only one top five, yet usually toward the front of the line with an average finish of 15.5. A strong race at Richmond would echo memories of 2014 when he qualified for the Chase during a winless season and ended up as a final four participant in Homestead.
“We’re kind of getting back into that zone of having better finishes, better runs,” Newman said earlier this season. “We feel like we’ve turned the momentum in our favor, but in the end we still have to deliver that victory.”
A significant asterisk looms: Newman is in a precarious position of drifting back further because he faces a potential penalty after his car failed post-race inspection. Penalties are typically announced Wednesdays.
Stay tuned. The Bubble Boys may be down one going into Richmond.
Richmond (Va.) International Raceway Saturday, 7:30 p.m. TV: NBC Sports Network Ryan Newman is winless and has only one top-five finish this season but is only seven points out of the last Chase spot.