NAM Y. HUH / AP Enlarge
CHARLOTTE - If Ryan Newman is indeed in line to join Tony Stewart's new team next season, neither driver is saying.
Stewart said yesterday he's still trying to fill the two-car lineup at Stewart-Haas Racing, while Newman joked the only new offer he's received was to drive for one of Stewart's sprint car teams.
All kidding aside, Newman is believed to be the top candidate to drive for Stewart next year. The Daytona 500 winner announced last week he'll leave Penske Racing at the end of the season, a decision that makes him the top current free agent.
Stewart, who is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to become part-owner of what's now known as Haas-CNC Racing, said he's still looking at who is available.
"There are a lot of drivers in the running right now," he said. "It's not narrowed down to just one driver right now."
But Stewart does have a list of criteria he'd like his future teammate to meet, and among the things he's looking for is the commitment to help the new team drive from the back of the NASCAR field and start contending for wins and championships.
"We definitely want somebody that you feel like is dedicated to what we're trying to do and realizing that we're taking an organization that's not had the success that it wants, and has the foresight to look forward and see what we're trying to accomplish," Stewart said.
"You want a driver that has that same attitude with what they do every weekend. You don't want a guy that's just content to run in the Top 15 or Top 20. You want a guy who has every intention every year and a realistic intention of saying, 'I expect to make the Chase.'•"
Based on that description, Newman sounds like his guy.
Newman is in his seventh full season driving for Penske, where he's won 13 races and 43 poles. He's finished sixth in the standings three times, but has not qualified for the Chase since 2005. Although he won the season-opening 500 this year, he's got just seven top-10 finishes and heads into Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend ranked 16th in the standings.
He pointed out his continued performance drop-off since 2005 as a reason for leaving Penske.
"The stats speak for themselves, but going back to 2003 we were a dominant race team. Eight wins, 14 poles," Newman said. "That's awesome and we have been dominant - we just aren't dominant right now and that cycles.
"Roger Penske always says, it says right on his Web site - 'Effort equals results.' If you're not getting your results, then you question the effort."
But Newman said he's committed to finishing the season strong in the No. 12 Dodge for Penske, no matter where he ends up driving . He said he's not set a timeline for figuring out his future.
"Maybe it's like being in high school and having a bunch of girls, and if you get an opportunity to date one or the other. And you don't know the timeline of how everything's going to go, you don't know when you're going to get a date," he said.
"It just happens. Maybe on a Friday night you go out and think 'Maybe that's how things are going to work out for me.'•"35.2225 -80.83754