Welcome to From the Marbles' 2014 season previews. Here's how we think the Chase will shake out in this first year of 16 drivers and eliminations. Will we be right? Unlikely, but it's fun to think about our soothsaying possibilities until the green flag waves for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.
Driver: Ryan Newman
2013 Finish: 11th
2013 Highlight: Newman won at Indianapolis in July, and then had an even bigger highlight after a potential lowlight. It wasn't nearly as climactic as getting to kiss the bricks, but Newman got into the Chase on the Monday after Richmond when NASCAR assessed penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing for race manipulation.
2013 Lowlight: When Clint Bowyer spun and started the Richmond goofiness in earnest, Newman was leading the race. He wasn't off of pit road under the caution flag, and after the race he had some harsh words for his crew. Even though he ended up making the Chase and was rewarded with an early morning media trip to Phoenix, those comments were a bit of public acrimony in his departure from Stewart-Haas Racing. Much like Kevin Harvick's remarks at Martinsville, it was something that wouldn't have been said if there was a future between Newman and the team.
Why is Newman here? In 12 full Sprint Cup seasons, Newman has finished outside the top 15 just twice. He's also won at least one race in nine of those seasons. And in eight of those seasons, he's had a win before the 26th race of the season.
So what does that mean? We're fairly confident that Newman will snag a win somewhere in the first 26 races or that he'll be high enough in the points standings to sneak into the Chase without a win.
How could Newman not be here? Who is a better litmus test of the "swap" between Richard Childress Racing and SHR? Newman or Kevin Harvick? While Harvick has been a perennial contender at RCR, the rest of the team hasn't been vying for Chase berths. Was Harvick overperforming? Will Newman settle into the 15-20 range like Paul Menard and Jeff Burton before him? If the answer to those two questions is in the affirmative, then we have the answer to the question in bold.
Best Winter Olympic event: Curling. Here's where we say cliche things about Newman's engineering degree and how he'd be able to figure out the angles needed to win, etc. etc.
Worst Winter Olympic event: Figure skating. Can you see Newman attempting at triple axel? We can't.
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