Top 20 Countdown: No. 17 Ryan Newman

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers of the 2011 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked five NASCAR journalists – Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports), Jenna Fryer (Associated Press), Dustin Long (Landmark Newspapers) and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2011 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 11 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

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(Getty Images)

2010 statistics

Finish

Poles

Wins

Top 5

Top 10

15

1

1

4

14

The countdown

No. 20: David Reutimann | Career stats

No. 19: Kasey Kahne | Career stats

No. 18: Mark Martin | Career stats

No. 17: Ryan Newman | Career stats

No. 16: Revealed Jan. 21

2010 finish: 15th

Our 2011 predictions:
• Jay Busbee: 17th
• Jay Hart: 16th
• Jenna Fryer: 20th
• Dustin Long: 17th
• Nate Ryan: 14th

Outlook for 2011: After a surprising 2009 in which both Ryan Newman and new boss Tony Stewart celebrated the debut of Stewart-Haas Racing by making the Chase, Newman backslid in 2010. The year started ugly with two DNFs, and Newman didn't finish above 16th until Martinsville – the sixth race of the season. The very next week in Phoenix he posted his lone win of the year, a victory that would end up being the high point of his season.

Newman is a solid driver, but he lacked consistency. After his April win, he wouldn't post another top-5 finish until October in Fontana, long after he'd been eliminated from the Chase. He finished with four top 5s and 14 top 10s, but too many came at the wrong time for him to salvage the season.

So how about 2011? He's a new father, which will certainly impact him to some degree – though it hasn't seemed to slow down Jimmie Johnson at all. Newman is now settled into the stability of Stewart-Haas, and with no marquee free agents on the horizon, there's no concern about him losing his seat or having to share team resources with a third driver. Basically, Newman has to keep doing what he's been doing – qualifying well, strategizing in-race, avoiding costly race-killing mistakes – he just has to do it a little better.

What you need to know: Newman is one of the best qualifiers in NASCAR; only Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya had a better average starting position in 2010 than Newman's 11.9. He's also probably the best-educated driver in NASCAR, holding a degree from Purdue, even if he does still apparently believe the moon landing was faked.