Ryan Newman feels 'more of a rookie' than ever

Terrin Waack

Ryan Newman is a NASCAR veteran. The 41-year-old made his Cup Series debut in 2000 and became a full-time driver soon after. That‘s two decades-worth of experience in the premier series alone.

This season, though, the past is truly just the past.

“Everything is so new that I‘m more of a rookie than I‘ve ever been probably in my entire racing career,” Newman told NASCAR.com. “Even when I was young and I was four and a half years old, that‘s probably the closest I am to right now. I feel like it‘s been a big learning curve, and it‘s been interesting to try to figure out how all this is working with all these packages and things like that.”

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Not to mention an entirely new team.

After five seasons of driving the No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing — and just one victory during that time, in 2017 — Newman decided to switch things up. He‘s now steering the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.

Newman has yet to return to Victory Lane this year and currently sits 17th in the championship standings. His 471 overall points fall two short of Erik Jones‘ 473 for the 16th and final playoff spot. There are seven races left, starting with Sunday‘s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, before those under the cutoff line receive the boot from title contention.

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“Motivation is when you‘re winning all the races and leading a bunch of laps,” Newman said. “That‘s motivation. Right now, I see that as we‘re not doing a good enough job to do what we feel we‘re capable of, so we better go do what we‘re capable of.”

And he genuinely thinks he and his team can.

Through 19 races, Newman has had one top-five run and seven top-10 performances. He‘s averaging a 13.8 finish after a 19.4 average start.

“We‘re trying to get over a hump that other teams haven‘t gotten to yet,” Newman said. “We‘re doing OK. We‘re just not as good as I want to be. Those stats that I have would be something amazing for other teams, but at the same time, they‘re not where I was in 2003 — 16 years ago when I won 11 poles and eight races.”

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Expectations are clearly higher, especially since Newman believes he‘s the same driver now that he was back then. He described himself as a “hard-nosed racer” — always has been, always will be — while others portray him more as a perfectionist.

“I‘ve always told Ryan I think he‘s hard to pass because he doesn‘t make mistakes,” RFR teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said earlier this season. “He‘s got the same mentality: If you‘re faster, pass me. Go around me. Run a different line than I am.

“But the reason he‘s so hard is he never messes up. That‘s something that, me as a driver, I want to get into that position where I don‘t make mistakes because I feel like that‘s helped Ryan throughout his whole career.”

Stenhouse isn‘t the only one taking lessons from Newman.

Since the No. 6 team is in its first season together, members are still trying to figure out best practices when it comes to working well as a unit. Communication has at least been a strong point. So it‘s mainly building off that for chemistry purposes and developing trust on all levels.

“I have a lot more experience than a lot of personnel on my team,” Newman said. “It’s kind of my responsibility as an experienced person — not just an experienced driver, but an experienced person — to give that feedback, to get that understanding that I’ve created over 19 years in the Cup Series and 35 years driving.”

Because it is a collective effort — new or old, rookie or veteran. Even Newman prides himself on still learning a little bit each week.

“If you ever stop,” Newman said, “you will not succeed.”

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