When Ryan Newman steps behind the wheel of the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Ford for this weekend's Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway, it will be his first time in a NASCAR Cup Series car since 2021. Still, the 45-year-old racing veteran is wary of diving headfirst into NASCAR's premier series. That's why his big return will be coming with a major asterisk: he'll just be sticking to short tracks.
While Newman achieved great success in NASCAR's highest level — 18 wins, including the 2008 Daytona 500 — he has also been involved in some career-defining crashes. His most recent wreck at the 2020 Daytona 500 nearly cost him his life. As it turns out, Darlington was the site of his first return after his 2020 injury. The 1.366-mile track is also the biggest track Newman will run on this season. His biggest concern? The safety of the Next Gen car.
"I don't think the car is as safe as it should be or as safe as they say it is on the big tracks," Newman said. "I don't need to be a crash test dummy. I've already got two bars named after me. I don't need a third."
A violent, multi-car pileup at Talladega in 2009 led to the introduction of the now-coined "Newman bar." That bar is the secondary cage bar that is in the driver's forehead area. In that crash, Newman went airborne after being hit from behind late in the race. The back half of Newman's car hit the hood of Kevin Harvick's car, then twirled and barrel-rolled several times before landing upside down. Safety workers had to flip the car back on its wheels and cut the roof open so Newman could get out of the car, because the roll cage collapsed and blocked him from climbing out of the window.
Then in 2020, on the final lap of the Daytona 500, Newman looked well on his way to his second victory in "The Great American Race" when he got turned by a big push from Ryan Blaney 100 feet from the finish line. Newman's car turned sideways and hit the wall, and an oncoming Corey Lajoie slammed into the roof of the No. 6 car. As a reult of the Daytona crash, NASCAR now requires teams to use two additional roll bar support pieces in the area of the car where Newman's car was hit in the roof.
Newman agreed to compete at the short tracks for RWR because of the slower speeds. However, for him to be eligible for the upcoming All-Star Weekend at North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Newman had to compete in this Sunday's Goodyear 400 at Darlington, since he had not been active since the season finale race at Phoenix in 2021.
He has other races at Richmond, Bristol, and Martinsville on his schedule to run for Rick Ware, but he certainly isn't going to push things. He emphasized that he is taking it one step at a time in returning to the Cup Series.
"I told them I was only going to do this if we can have fun," Newman said. "If it isn't fun, it's not worth me doing. Somebody else can do it. I think they feel the same way."
Newman hasn't raced a Next Gen car, and there have been plenty of major changes since he last stepped foot in a NASCAR Cup car.
"The biggest adjustment I'll have to make is the fact the guys are shifting per lap, and the shifting mechanism itself," Newman said. "Outside of that, it's a steering wheel and pedals."
MORE: Ryan Newman Joins 75 Greatest Drivers List: Does "Rocket Man" Deserve His Spot Alongside NASCAR's Icons?
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