With a spot in the Sprint Cup final up for grabs last week, Ryan Newman bumped Kyle Larson into the wall and took the lane he needed to finish 11th and nab the fourth and final spot in Sunday’s finale. Newman, who has 15 top-10 finishes this season – and zero victories – nudged out Jeff Gordon for the final-four honor, joining Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano.
Newman also won the first championship for Richard Childress in 20 years. In fact, the last driver to do that was Dale Earnhardt Sr, in 1994.
But was Newman’s move – intentionally bumping Larson into the wall – the right thing to do? Wasn’t that a bit dangerous, especially given the microscope NASCAR is under in terms of driver safety?
“Well, it’s definitely a product of the new format that we have now,” NASCAR analyst Danielle Trotta said on The MoJo Show, “and it just showed you when this much is on the line, guys will do whatever it takes. I think this new format has changed the sport in some ways. And a lot of people that I’ve talked to on the show, they feel like Ryan Newman did what he had to do, and if Dale Earnhardt or some of the other greats back in the day were in that same position, they would have done the same thing. When you feel like you have a championship spot on the line, you do what you have to do.”
Gordon, however, took exception to Newman’s maneuver, essentially saying that’s not the right way to race.
“I think people are just starting to understand the new product of this format and the type of racing that it’s going to take,” Trotta said. “I think next season you’re gong to see a lot more of what you saw at Texas and a lot more of what you saw at Phoenix.”
But is this what NASCAR brass wanted? Apparently, yes, it is. Many fans love the new Chase format, especially since you have eliminations after certain races – which makes it extremely entertaining.
“I think it’s exactly what the doctor ordered,” Trotta said. “With Ryan Newman getting into the final four without a win, folks have asked NASCAR, ‘Are you happy with the championship even if a winless driver wins the championship?’ And the head of NASCAR, Brian France, said even if Ryan Newman wins it, he’s still really happy with the product that’s on track.”
And why wouldn’t he be? Fans are making their way to the track in bunches, and the ones who aren’t are tuning in on television.
Said Trotta, “The fact that Homestead is sold out, there’s not a seat left in the place – which hasn’t happened in a few years – I think shows you that the fans really like what they see.”
Newman will of course be racing for Childress, while Hamlin will be racing for Joe Gibbs Racing, Logano will be racing for Roger Penske, and Harvick will be racing for Stewart-Hass.