Last year we ranked Ryan Newman 15th. We didn’t necessarily expect him to make the playoffs any more than his 17th-place ranking this year suggests confidence that he will miss the mark, but it is notable that Newman finished precisely 15th in the standings.
In his second season with a team that is in a rebuilding mode, he will face new challenges that will impact his handicap.
One reason to put him a little lower on the chart this time around is because one of the drivers we expected to finish behind him had a great season in 2019. William Byron was ranked 19th in his sophomore season but finished 11th in the standings.
There is also the addition of Christopher Bell, who should have a rookie season that turns some heads.
Meanwhile, Newman should perform about the same this year as he did last. There will be highs and lows, Newman's fate hinges on that of the Roush organization. Teams don't lose all of their momentum in one fell swoop. The certainly don't regain it overnight.
With only three top-fives Newman was rarely the driver fantasy owners counted on to anchor their roster, but with 14 top-10s and 22 top-15s he was nearly always in the mix. Understanding a driver's limitations is as important as identifying their strengths. In most games, Newman was rightly priced and top-10s made him a good value.
Newman finished in the back half of the field nine times and five of those were 22nd or 23rd-place finishes in which he still earned a reasonable number of points.
Consistency was the key to Newman’s 2019 success.
Probably his best trait last year was that he failed to finish only one race. That came late in the season in Week 40 after getting caught up in an accident at Kansas. He finished on the lead lap 25 times and was only one lap down on another five occasions.
Newman was the perfect driver to assess the needs of the No. 6. He is going to be the catalyst for this team to improve.
Newman has been in the series longer than almost any other active driver, but he has never lost his aggression. It doesn’t matter if he is battling for a position in the top 10 or to keep from going a lap down, he is going to fight for every inch of asphalt. That is an intangible that cannot be overlooked and that trait has labeled him “harder to pass than a kidney stone.”
That aggression has become an accepted fact of NASCAR life and oddly his fellow drivers rarely try to retaliate outright. They came become extremely frustrated with him on the course, but most drivers subscribe to a theory of racing the competitor the way he races you – and in head-to-head match ups, few can make their car as wide and difficult to get around as Newman. Conservatively, Newman's aggression accounts for three or four positions in every race.
It is possible that Newman will assume a new role in 2020. He spent much of last year learning the Roush Fenway Racing playbook. He was not exactly a mentor to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – and he might not strictly be a tutor to Chris Buescher in 2020 – but for the long term success of the organization Newman is going to have to help his younger teammate.
Drivers are selfish. They have to be in order to get the best possible finish for their sponsor. But a rising tide lifts every ship in the harbor and elevating Buescher's performance will increase the number of top-fives for Newman. Whether that comes in 2020 is an open question, however, and it is one of the reasons we have him handicapped moderately.
Three Best Tracks
Richmond (12.3 in 36 attempts)
Darlington (12.6 in 21)
Sonoma (12.8 in 18)
Three Worst Tracks
Charlotte Roval (21.5 in 2)
Kansas (19.5 in 28)
Talladega (18.7 in 36)
Victories: None (Best finish = second, Talladega 2)
Top-fives: 3 (.083)
Top-10s: 14 (.389)
Top-15s: 22 (.661)
2019 Finishes at or above rank = 25 (69.4%)
2020 Driver Profiles:
18. Matt DiBenedetto
19. Jimmie Johnson
20. Tyler Reddick
21. Chris Buescher
22. Cole Custer
23. Austin Dillon
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
25. Ryan Preece
26. Ty Dillon
27. Bubba Wallace
28. Michael McDowell
29. Ross Chastain
30. Daniel Suarez