(April 25, 2007) — Wedged into 26th place in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series points standings, Ryan Newman can still manage to smile.
One top-10 finish and no wins are not what Newman had in mind for results six races into the 36-event Cup season. He already trails leader Jeff Gordon by 621 points.
Newman needs a surge to qualify for the 10-race playoff series, but he can't mash the gas to make up ground quickly. That will only come with time.
"I was disappointed about the fact of where we finished,'' Newman said about his 38th-place finish in the Penske Racing No. 12 Dodge last Saturday in Phoenix.
"I really wasn't mad about the whole situation. I've been in this sport for seven years now, and I've never seen anything crazy like that happen all at once.''
Newman smiled as he retold the story Tuesday morning during an appearance at Eastman Kodak's Digital Printing Solutions Center on Manitou Road.
Less than thrilled with his qualifying draw, Newman began the race from the 19th starting position. He drove up to fifth-place twice, and felt a good finish was ahead as he pitted under a green flag late in the race.
"As soon as we got the right side of the car jacked up, the yellow (caution) flag came out," Newman said. "The ideal thing would have been to finish the stop or leave the pits. We had a miscommunication.
"I thought they were going to do two tires, (but) the front-tire changer came around and took the left front tire off. Basically, about four things happened in about 3.8 seconds that were worst-case scenarios."
Just like that, Newman's chances to win his first points race since the 2005 season was gone.
"I was extremely happy that we had a fast car," Newman said. "It was a situation where we took the positives out of it, forgot about the negatives, learn from them obviously, but move on.
"After 36 races, you kind of create your own luck. If the next three or four are bad, then yeah, we need to look at something. But I think it's just a bad set of circumstances the last two weeks. We can carry on."
It won't be easy to make headway.
Newman, a 12-time winner and the series' Rookie of the Year in 2002, is not the only big-name down in the standings.
Kasey Kahne, a six-time winner in 2006, is five spots behind Newman. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is in better shape, nevertheless is 15th.
And Michael Waltrip's Toyota-sponsored teams, including the car driven by former champion Dale Jarrett, have sputtered from the start.
While Newman is not among the standings leaders, Kodak, an associate sponsor of Penske Racing, is happy with the 29-year-old driver.
"He's giving us the exposure that we want," company spokesman David Kassnoff said. "He was very strong in Phoenix, but he's also a great ambassador for the sport."
Newman's car will have Kodak's red and yellow as its primary colors this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. It's part of a three-race arrangement that includes races at Watkins Glen International and California Speedway.
Newman said he is optimistic before the team heads to Alabama.
"At Texas, we had a similar situation to what (teammate) Kurt Busch had," Newman said. "If it wasn't for a fuel mileage situation, he would've won the race. I can say the same thing about Phoenix.
"The last two races we were there, fully capable of being a winning race car and we had some crazy circumstances take us out of that chance. If we just keep our chin up, we'll be fine."