By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the top-30 drivers in the series leading into this month’s 60th running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 16
Career Wins: 18
Ryan Newman returns behind the wheel of the No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in 2018, his fifth with the team and 17th full-time in the Cup Series. Newman comes off a year in which he went to victory lane at Phoenix Raceway, snapping a winless streak that had grown to 127 races. The victory put him in the playoffs, but three consecutive finishes outside the top-10 in the first round resulted in a disappointing 16th-place in the championship standings.
In the off-season, RCR cut back to two teams, returning Austin Dillon as Newman’s teammate as Paul Menard went to Wood Brothers Racing. In addition, Chevrolet will debut the new Camaro ZL1 body style when the field takes the green flag at Daytona in a few weeks as the manufacturer made the car design change from the Chevrolet SS during the off-season.
“From my standpoint, we had the opportunity to take the best of the best people, put them all together. We have a couple small personnel changes on the 31 side, but the core group of guys as far as the crew chief and the race engineers are all the same, so we were able to build on what we’ve had, and our feather in our cap is the Camaro ZL1 because we feel as a design and development piece it is made to be better than what we had last year, and the rest of the rules are the same from last year. We hope that it shows the fruits of our labor,” Newman said during the annual pre-season Charlotte Media Tour.
Rule changes implemented by NASCAR for 2018 include the reduction of one crew member on pit stops, a standard pit gun for all teams and the debut of the new Hawkeye inspection system. Newman, who recently celebrated his 40th birthday, believes these changes along with the new Chevrolet body will be an advantage.
“I think there’s nobody more excited about it than anybody that drives a Chevrolet. It’s a car that was built and designed for this aero package, and I believe that all the smart people that we have in the garage that work on Chevrolets wouldn’t get it wrong,” said Newman, himself a graduate of Purdue University with an degree in engineering.
“I look forward to the opportunity that it brings and hope that with a lot of the new things in our sport, the Hawkeye system, the way the tech process is going to go, the pit stop procedures, personnel‑wise, as well as the pit guns, that it’ll help even out some of the playing field for us and give us an opportunity to be more successful.”
It’s been more than a decade since the South Bend, Ind. native burst onto the Cup scene, beating out now seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson for Rookie of the Year in 2002 and earning the moniker “The Rocket Man” by winning 34 poles in his first four seasons of full-time competition. Newman recorded eight wins in 2003, but has won just nine times over the past 14 seasons. However, he’s ridden consistency to several playoff berths and finished just one point shy of the Cup title in 2014, his first with RCR. With the new Chevrolet and changes to pit road and the inspection process, only time will tell if Newman and team will be able to capitalize and once again compete for the championship.