Chase could create ‘a winner without being a winner’

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Mired in one of the longest winless droughts of his career, Ryan Newman still has the chance to be a Sprint Cup champion.

Not only could he be a winless champion, he could be a champion who hasn’t won in more than two seasons.

“It doesn’t matter,’’ Newman said during a media event in Dover, Del., as part of NASCAR’s Chase Across North America. “The math is there to support a champion who doesn’t need to win.

“That’s what is different about our sport. In the end, you can be a winner without being a winner.’’

Newman enters Sunday’s Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway winless in his last 78 races – dating to his July 2013 victory at Indianapolis. His longest winless drought is 81 races, which ended with his win in the 2008 Daytona 500.

That isn’t the longest winless drought among Chase drivers. Newman’s teammate, Paul Menard, is winless in his last 150 races, going back to his 2011 win at Indianapolis. Clint Bowyer has gone 103 races without a victory.

Some of Newman’s struggles this season came when crew chief Luke Lambert, an engineer and the team’s tire engineer were suspended six races after NASCAR found that the team had manipulated its tires at Auto Club Speedway. Lambert and the crew members missed races at Kansas, Charlotte, Dover, Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma.

Newman’s average finish was 16.6 in those races. He had an average finish of 13.0 in the other 20 races.

“We went through a pretty big ordeal when Luke got suspended, the engineer got suspended as well as the tire guy,’’ Newman said. “When those guys came back it was a little bit of a re-calibration for us. It was not an easy transition to get into a rhythm in those six races and then (back) into a rhythm with Luke and them back.’’

While Newman nearly shocked the sport by winning the title last year, he knows his team must do more to win it this year.

“We have to step it up,’’ said Newman, who finished second in points to Kevin Harvick last year. “We haven’t led enough laps. We haven’t put ourselves in contention enough times to get that victory.”

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