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Big gamble beckoning to Newman

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

LONG POND, Pa. – Contrary to published reports, the Ryan Newman saga continues on.

"It's safe to say to all of you guys that I'm in discussions for what's best for my career," Newman said Friday at Pocono Raceway, site of Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. "I'm closer to making a decision, but the report" – reported that Newman has verbally agreed to drive for Tony Stewart next season – "wasn't exactly accurate."

Newman may or may not wind up driving for Stewart next year. Those discussions are still ongoing as Newman, one of the brighter bulbs in the Sprint Cup garage, contemplates a decision that will make or break his legacy as a Cup driver.

It was only five years ago when Newman won a season-high eight races and appeared on the cusp of Gordondom (as in Jeff Gordon). Only his career has gone into a stall since then.

Since that 2003 season, Newman has gone from a budding superstar to a driver just hoping to make the Chase. Chasing the leaders week in and week out hasn't sat well with Newman, who's done little to hide his displeasure with his Penske Racing team.

But is Stewart's new venture Newman's best option to get out from under a cloud of mediocrity?

From Stewart's perspective, bringing Newman in makes perfect sense, especially if both Stewart-Haas cars – we'll call them that now for simplicity sake even though Stewart won't officially take ownership until next season – finish outside the top 35 in owner's points this season, meaning they would have to qualify on time for at least the first five races of the 2009 season.

Stewart will qualify for each race based on his past-champion status, while Newman is a virtual lock based on his superior qualifying ability.

But both will be coming at this with different agendas.

Stewart is 37, on the back end of a career that already lists two championships. Sure he still wants to win, but if that was foremost on his mind he would have stayed at Joe Gibbs Racing.

No, Stewart, who wouldn't discuss the Newman situation Friday, is beginning to think about the next chapter of his life: ownership.

Newman, meanwhile, is only 30, in the relative prime of his career and is still trying to win championship No. 1. That's his goal now and will be until it actually happens, if it actually happens.

This is what makes the idea of teaming up with Stewart such a gamble for Newman.

Stewart may eventually succeed as an owner, but how long before Stewart-Haas is a contender is still up for grabs, meaning Newman could be riding around the middle of the pack for the foreseeable future.

If that ends up being the case, at least Stewart will be left with the deed to a team, while Newman will have spent the best years of his career building a foundation for Stewart's future.

This, of course, assumes Stewart-Haas struggles out of the box, and we all know what assumptions can do. Just look at how the assumed "transition year" from Chevrolet to Toyota has worked out for Joe Gibbs Racing.

But switching logos on the front of the car is a lot different than switching garages.

Yes, Stewart-Haas, through its partnership with Hendrick Motorsports, will conceivably provide Newman with better equipment than he's getting from Penske Racing. But that partnership exists today, and Haas CNC Racing isn't even sniffing the top 30.

In NASCAR, it's not all about good parts. You need good people to make those parts work, and Stewart-Haas has some work to do in that department.

However you look at it, this is a gamble for everyone involved, even Stewart. If it works and Stewart-Haas comes out of the box winning races, it will be a tremendous accomplishment.

But with big reward comes big risk, and at this stage in his career, is this the kind of risk Newman should be taking?

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