By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Joey Logano in Victory Lane -- that's the last thing Ryan Newman wanted to see.
Not that Newman has anything personal against Logano. It's simply that Newman was loath to see Logano -- or any other previously winless driver in the top 20 in points -- notch a victory.
But there was Logano in Victory Lane, spraying adult beverages on members of his team, celebrating his win in Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Newman, who finished 13th, left Michigan knowing that his quest to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup had just gotten exponentially more difficult.
After the Aug. 11 race at Watkins Glen, Newman held the 14th position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and the second of two provisional Wild Card spots. After Michigan, he's 15th, with two drivers ahead of him in the race for the last Wild Card position -- because Martin Truex Jr. fell out of the top 10 on Sunday, and because Logano won the race, jumped to 13th in points and injected himself into the Chase picture.
That was another headache in a rough two months for Newman, who got definite word in July that his contract with Stewart-Haas Racing would not be renewed. Team owner Tony Stewart said at the time, during a press conference at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, that SHR was not prepared to field a fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup team next year.
As it turns out, Stewart-Haas wasn't prepared to field a fourth team for Newman. For Kurt Busch, on the other hand, a fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup team is a possibility, and reportedly, SHR has tendered a multiyear offer to Busch to drive for the organization, a story first reported Sunday by FoxSports.com.
A recent high point for Newman was his victory in the Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in late July, but the driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet has yet to announce plans for 2014.
With Stewart laid up as his broken bones mend from an Aug. 5 Sprint Car accident in Iowa, Newman is SHR's last hope to qualify for the Chase, at least on the drivers' side. And Logano's win makes that prospect more of a long shot than it was when the green flag waved to start the race on Sunday afternoon.
The interesting aspect is that Newman still controls his own destiny, as far as the Chase is concerned. One victory in the next three races would make him an odds-on favorite to qualify for NASCAR's 10-race playoff. Two wins would lock him in.
Far-fetched, perhaps, but possible.
NO MOJO FOR MICHIGAN
For a precision, championship outfit like Hendrick Motorsports, Michigan remains a mystery.
Kasey Kahne's seventh-place run was the lone bright spot for the organization, which left the two-mile track in total befuddlement for the second straight race.
Jimmie Johnson exited early with an engine failure after wrecking his primary car in practice and going to a backup chassis. Johnson finished 40th, to go with a 28th-place run in June, when he blew a tire while pursuing leader Greg Biffle in the closing laps.
Sunday was a double whammy for Johnson. Crew chief Chad Knaus had planned to use the primary chassis in the first Chase race at Chicagoland, but he'll have to make other arrangements.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 37th in June, came home 36th Sunday after blowing a right front tire and pounding the Turn 2 wall. Jeff Gordon, who was wiped out in an early accident not of his making in June and finished 39th, ran a pedestrian 17th on Sunday.
Kahne's top 10 was a vast improvement over the 38th he posted in the first race at MIS, but it still left Hendrick Motorsports with an average finish of 30.25 in eight combined starts at the track this year.
There's one bright spot, as far as HMS is concerned. Michigan isn't in the Chase.