By Jerry Bonkowski, Yahoo! Sports
FONTANA, Calif. – As a college-trained engineer, Purdue University grad Ryan Newman is a whiz when it comes to analyzing numbers, scenarios and probabilities.
For example, if Newman looks at a glass, he not only studies whether it's half-full or half-empty, he also takes into consideration things such as volume of the fluid, thickness of the glass and how quickly it takes to consume said fluid.
But when it comes to his chances of making the Chase for the Nextel Cup, Newman changes from analytical to practical. Throw out scenarios and what-ifs. Forget worrying about what other drivers need to do.
With two races remaining until the start of the Chase, Newman sits 14th in the standings. He's 163 points behind Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch, who sits 12th in points – last qualifying spot for the Chase. Newman approaches Sunday's race at California and next Saturday's final Chase qualifying race at Richmond pragmatically.
"You just go out and do the best job you can, and where you end up is where you end up," said Newman, who will start Sunday night's Sharp Aquos 500 here at California Speedway from the fourth position (Busch won the pole).
That's a very simple explanation to a very complicated formula
Bottom-line, Newman has to leave California less than 161 points behind Busch or whoever occupies the 12th-place position after Sunday night's race to still have a shot at making the Chase heading to Richmond.
"We do have a chance mathematically, as long as we do what we need to do," Newman said. "We're not in the position we'd like to be, but anything can happen, especially at these bigger tracks between engine failure and fuel mileage and things like that. You just never know."
While not giving up on making the Chase, Newman knows the deck is not exactly stacked in his favor. Yet at the same time, had it not been for a few wrong turns earlier this season, he could have made the Chase with ease.
The big problem was the first 12 races of the season. In the opening third of the season, the driver of the No. 12 Dodge had five finishes of 32nd or worst, plus an additional 23rd-place outing. A major contributing factor was three DNFs (two blown engines and a crash).
But in the second half of the year, Newman has had only two finishes outside the top 20 – including two runner-ups – and just one DNF.
When asked to compare the first third of the season with the middle third, Newman again becomes analytical.
"It's a good rebound season for us," said Newman, who finished 18th in points last season. "Could it have been better? Absolutely. Could it have been worse? Yeah, absolutely. We've had our ups and downs, our hiccups, and yet through it all, we're still sitting here pretty strong. I'd give (the season) a B or B-minus."
While Newman is in a position to help himself and Busch at the same time, he doesn't expect Busch to do the same. And Newman is OK with that, knowing Busch has to race Sunday with a more conservative strategy so that he doesn't cost himself points and leave himself vulnerable to a Dale Earnhardt Jr. (13th in points) or Newman hot streak.
"He can't do (anything)," Newman said. "We just have to keep doing what we've been doing as a team. It's got us to where we're at: the top two Dodge teams out there."
Newman describes California Speedway as being just an "all right" race track, perhaps because his record is less-than-stellar at the two-mile oval. In nine career starts here, Newman has just two top-fives and one other top-10. He finished 33rd in last year's Labor Day event here and was 12th at Fontana this spring.
"I'd rather be at Darlington," Newman said, referring to the former traditional site of the Labor Day weekend event on the Cup schedule. After more than 50 years at Darlington, NASCAR moved this weekend's race to California Speedway in 2004.
Newman's affinity for Darlington isn't surprising. He has five career top-fives and another top-10 in nine starts at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval.
"I'd rather be at Darlington," he reiterates with a big smile after taking a bite from a popsicle.
But in reality, Newman is all the way on the other side of the country and he'll have to make the best of the situation.
Much like how he views his chances of making the Chase.
Saturday, September 1, 2007
By Jerry Bonkowski, Yahoo! Sports