Newman plots path to consistency, title

Friday, October 21, 2005

Ryan Newman doesn't like to show any emotion.

He's an engineer, a Purdue graduate with a bent for cool, clear thinking and a thirst for problem-solving. And he's a low-key individual, a man whose idea of a great vacation is heading into the deep woods for some fishing, sitting on the porch of a cabin and enjoying nature.

When people start talking to the Nextel Cup star about going to New York for NASCAR's annual postseason awards ceremony, you can almost see him shudder.

"New York is too busy and loud for me," Newman said, smiling. "It's not my favorite place. But that's just me."

However, since Newman made it into the 10-man Chase for the Championship, he knows that means he will have to be in New York and don a tuxedo to make an appearance on stage during the ceremony at the posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, no matter where he finishes in the season standings.

"If I've got to be there anyway, I think it would be great to be at the head table," Newman said, shrugging.

Newman is fourth in the Chase, but it's practically a dead heat with only 17 points separating him from co-leaders Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, with Greg Biffle in between.

The schedule continues this Sunday on the half-mile track at Martinsville, where Newman has finished no worse than fifth in his last four starts and was fourth in the spring race at the Virginia track.

Newman, 27, grew up in South Bend, Ind., apprenticed on short tracks and, at one point, appeared headed toward IndyCar racing. But team owner Roger Penske decided Newman belonged in stock cars. It was a good decision.

The youngster, nicknamed "Rocketman" for his propensity to win poles, has topped qualifying an incredible 33 times in 147 tries. He also has 12 victories and has finished no worse than sixth in the points since his first full season in Cup in 2002.

Newman made it easily into the inaugural Chase last year, but never really contended, finishing seventh.

Newman feels pressure about making a serious run at the title.

"There's a lot of pressure for the team and for everyone, but it's not so different from the pressure we all face all year," Newman said. "To me, it's one of those things that, if I stay focused as a driver and the team stays focused, when the checkered flag falls at Homestead, then we'll figure it out and see if it's time to celebrate.

"If not, well, we'll just go after it again next year and see what we can learn from what happened this time around."

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