Magda: Newman survives Phoenix for shot at Cup Championship

Ryan Newman’s chances at winning the 2014 Sprint Cup Series Championship were fading away in the final laps at Phoenix.  The No. 31 car dropped back to 12th and Newman was in a tie with Jeff Gordon for the fourth and final spot for Homestead.

Newman ran down rookie Kyle Larson in Turn 3 and went under the No. 42 and rubbed fenders, with the No. 31 team taking home 11th and the 39-year-old driver finishing one point ahead of Gordon.

“I think if Kyle Larson was in my shoes, he would of done the exact same thing,” Newman said of the move Sunday.  “That was everything I had.  I did what I had to do. There’s a lot on the line here.”

The four drivers who will compete for the championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be Newman, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.  None of the four drivers have ever won the Cup championship.

Newman gives Richard Childress Racing’s (RCR) best shot at a title since the late Dale Earnhardt took home his seventh championship in 1994.  The Indiana driver can also become the first winless champion in the history of the Cup Series and the idea of not winning a race didn’t bother him either.

“In the end, it really doesn’t matter,” he added.  “The fastest car or the best car on the restart may not win, you just never know.”

 His best showing on the year to this point was a third place at Kentucky in June.  Being guided by crew chief Luke Lambert, Newman’s season has already been a success and will improve on his career-best sixth-place points finish come Sunday.

A stat that wouldn’t be on Newman’s side is that either a Penske or Hendrick-powered car has won the last 13 races and the only driver to score a win this season with a RCR engine was A.J. Allmendinger back at Watkins Glen in August. 

Like the three other drivers chasing the championship, Newman has a good chance because NASCAR wipes the slate clean going into Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400.  Bonus points don’t matter as the highest-finishing driver in the race wins the title.  The Hoosier has a Nationwide Series victory at the track in 2005.

To become the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion, Newman needs to avoid a similar performance at Phoenix last weekend.  Even though he barely squeaked into the final round, that will have to change at Homestead.  The winner on Sunday could likely be the champion.  It could have a similar feel to the 2011 finale, when Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards tied in points at the end of the night, with Stewart winning the tie-breaker of his five wins to Edwards’s one.

Once again, a Stewart-Haas Racing driver is in the title hunt, and that is No. 4 car of Kevin Harvick, the old team that Newman drove for the past five years.  Harvick has trumped the competition with laps led in 2,083 and also picked up four wins.

But once the cars hit the track at Homestead, throw all the stat sheets away.  The past won’t matter, as four drivers will duke it out to claim their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Kyle Magda