NASCAR continues to celebrate its 75th anniversary by honoring its greatest drivers and moments. One of the major ways the sanctioning body has been doing that is by adding 25 names to its 50 Greatest Drivers List — launched back in 1998 during the 50th anniversary — with it all leading up to Darlington Raceway weekend, when the entire list of 75 drivers will be honored.
The newest addition to the list is Ryan "Rocket Man" Newman, a 45-year-old South Bend, Indiana, native who competed in the Cup Series for nearly 20 years. Tom Bigelow, a legend on the sprint car circuit, surprised Newman with the news, and you could imagine that he was extremely touched by the special commemoration.
A well-known figure at every level under the NASCAR umbrella, Newman was the ultimate wheelman during his career — yet a number of NASCAR fans have questioned Newman's inclusion on the list. For all the doubters out there, let's just say that they called him "Rocket Man" for a reason. He earned 64 career poles across the top three NASCAR series, including 53 in the Cup series alone. That mark is good for ninth all time in career poles, trailing only Richard Petty, David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Mark Martin and Bill Elliott. He joins all of them on the list of 75.
Ryan was a true ironman of the sport. He made 36 starts per season for 18 consecutive years, ultimately breaking that streak with his horrific crash at the end of the 2020 Daytona 500. During his lengthy tenure in the Cup Series, Newman's most productive season came in 2003, in his second full-time season, when he won 11 poles and eight races. Across his 725 career Cup starts, Newman posted 18 victories, 117 top 5 finishes and 268 top 10s; and he ran over 20,000 laps — leading 4,863 of them. His greatest moments include winning the 2002 All-Star Race as a rookie and capturing the famed Winston Million, the 2008 Daytona 500 and the 2013 Brickyard 400.
His success in NASCAR wasn't in the Cup Series alone. He also found success in the Xfinity Series with seven victories, as well as in the Craftsman Truck Series and the ARCA Menards Series. And we can't forget his success in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series. He never quite found championship success in the top 3 series, but Newman is very worthy of being named among the top 75 drivers in NASCAR history.
Newman had the fortune of driving for Roger Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, Richard Childress and Jack Roush throughout his NASCAR career. Even though his last Cup start came at the end of the 2021 season, he is still very active at the grassroots racing level.
Many might debate whether Newman getting the call is well deserved, or if he was just fortunate. The fact is that he brought a lot to the sport as a whole, from all the poles and the breakthrough wins to the scary crashes to nearly capturing the 2014 Cup Series Championship without winning a single race. No matter what, "Rocket Man," you have earned your place among NASCAR's legends.
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