Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Where There’s Smoke, There’s A Qualifying Rocket

With 13 wins – including the most recent running of the Great American Race – in a little over seven full seasons of Cup racing, it’s little wonder that Ryan Newman is the first name mentioned when talk turns to the second driver of the newly-formed Stewart-Haas Racing team. And now that Tony Stewart has been taken “off the market”, Newman has become far and away the most attractive free agent available this Silly Season.

However, Newman’s wins are only part of an equation that could add up to Newman joining forces with Stewart for the 2009 season and beyond.

An industry source tells Stock Car Talk that Newman’s legendary qualifying prowess, not just his Sunday talent, is one of the overriding factors for a team “looking to gut the building and re-build the organization from the ground up.”

“Yes, Newman has the talent to be a Chase guy year-in and year-out,” the source told SCT. “But in the short term, his ability to qualify a Gremlin is one of the biggest keys in (Stewart-Haas’) line of thinking. By the looks of it, they’ll go into 2009 without a guaranteed spot in the field.”

Currently, Haas/CNC Racing fields two teams: the #66 and the #70. Both teams are outside the top-35 in owner points, with the former 70 points out of a guaranteed start and the latter an insurmountable 519 points out with 18 races left.

Should neither team finish the 2008 season within the top-35 in owner points, the newly-formed Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) would be faced with qualifying their way into the field for the first five races of ’09. However, Stewart could use the most recent Cup champion’s provisional if need be to guarantee a spot on the grid for the first five races. That would leave the other SHR team with the unwelcome and grinding task of placing all of their eggs in the qualifying basket for the first five races.

Which is where Newman comes in.

“You can’t gut the whole place, then turn around and bring in a guy that may or may not make half or three-quarters of the races,” the source said. “Newman would get that car in the field, and get his sponsor face time on Sunday. That will be key for a new race team, to show the sponsors early on that they made the right decision with their money. And that’s why (Newman) will be on the move to Tony’s organization next year.”

Stewart has a press conference scheduled for tomorrow, during which he will officially announce his move from JGR to The Organization Formerly Known As Haas/CNC Racing. It’s highly unlikely Stewart will announce the signing of Newman tomorrow; that move will likely come during the week leading up to the Brickyard 400 later this month, the source said.

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