Steve Newmark

Ryan Newman gets standing ovation in visit to Roush Fenway Racing

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Exactly 10 months to the day when the country will celebrate Thanksgiving, the entire Roush Fenway Racing organization gave thanks and a warm welcome to driver Ryan Newman, who visited the team’s shop Wednesday.

Newman, who was involved in a horrific crash coming to the finish line of the Daytona 500 just nine days earlier, received a standing ovation from his colleagues and posed for a number of photos.

While there is still no timetable for Newman’s return behind the wheel of his No. 6 RFR Ford Mustang — Ross Chastain is scheduled to drive the car until Newman comes back — Wednesday’s appearance was yet another positive move in that direction.

“Just a good day,” RFR president Steve Newmark tweeted about Newman’s visit.

Newman said in a prior statement he suffered an undisclosed head injury in the crash but did not suffer any broken bones or internal injuries.

Tuesday he took part in one of his favorite pastimes:

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Ryan Newman says he suffered a head injury, seeks to race again

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Ryan Newman said in a statement that he is being treated for a head injury that he suffered in his last-lap crash in the Daytona 500 but that he’s “looking forward to getting behind the wheel and battling for another race win.”

Newman’s statement was read by Steve Newmark, Roush Fenway Racing president.

In Newman’s statement, he said he suffered no internal injuries and no broken bones in the crash and that “the doctors have been pleased with my progression over the last few days.”

There is no timetable for Newman’s return, Newmark said.

“He has unequivocally expressed this is where he wants to be,” Newmark said of Newman.

Newmark later said in the press conference at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that Newman’s “objective is to get back in the car as quick as he can.”

Ross Chastain is scheduled to drive the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing while Newman is out.

“Right now we’re just taking it one race at a time,” Newmark said of how long Chastain will drive the car. “The arrangement with Ross is if we need him, he should be available.”

Newman will have to be cleared by his doctors and by NASCAR before he can race. Newman has been in conversation with this weekend with crew chief Scott Graves and Chastain, Newmark said.

Martin Truex Jr. said Saturday that he’s confident Newman will be back sooner than later.

“I’ve been talking to him throughout the week,” Truex said. “He’s doing real good. I feel like he’ll be back before anybody thinks he could. He’s a tough son of a gun. He’s in good spirits and hanging out with his family, so he’s doing well.”

MORE: NASCAR won’t change overtime rules after Ryan Newman crash 

MORE: Podcast – Kyle Petty on wounds being reopened by Ryan Newman’s crash 

Newman, 42, was injured after a chaotic last lap in the Daytona 500. He passed Denny Hamlin for the lead on the backstretch, getting a push from Ryan Blaney.

Exiting Turn 4, Blaney went low to challenge for the lead. Newman dropped down the track to block. Blaney then hit Newman to push him to the victory, later saying he knew he couldn’t win at that point and wanted to ensure that a Ford won.

The contact turned Newman’s car to the right. He slammed the outside wall and turned upside down. Corey LaJoie’s car slammed into Newman’s car on the driver side. Newman’s car crossed the finish line sliding on its roof with sparks flying. The No. 6 Ford car came to rest just beyond the exit of pit road. Safety crews needed 15 minutes to extricate him and he was taken immediately to Halifax Medical Center. 

Newman was released from the hospital Wednesday, less then 42 hours after being injured in the Daytona 500.

 

STATEMENT FROM RYAN NEWMAN

“I’m sorry that I can’t be at the track in person, but I asked Steve (Newmark) to take a moment to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude for all the support that was shown last week to both me and my family. The outpouring of emotion from not only the NASCAR community, but across the country has been truly humbling.

“I want to personally thank everyone, including the man upstairs, for their support, encouragement and the numerous offers of assistance. We always say that the NASCAR community is one big family and never has that been more evident to me than after seeing this family rally together and provide the comfort and support that has been shown to my family and me over the past few days.  The calls and visits from the NASCAR executives and my friends and competitors has been truly uplifting.

“I want to thank everyone involved in my care, especially the staff at Halifax Medical Center, where I am convinced I received the best care available. I’m confident the efforts of each of those trained professionals played a major role in where I’m sitting today. And to the entire NASCAR organization, led by Jim France, thanks for being by my side the entire time.  You truly stepped up to support me unconditionally when it mattered most.

“Most importantly, I have to thank the guys back at the Roush Fenway Racing shop that built me a car not only fast enough to lead the final seconds of the Daytona 500, but strong enough to do its job under great distress, allowing me to survive such an accident. I am truly indebted to each of you and it is unlikely I will ever be able to properly express to you how much the diligent effort with which you conduct your craftmanship has affected me and my family. I hope you took pride in the photograph of me walking out of the hospital hand-in-hand with my daughters on Wednesday. Thank you. I can’t wait to get back in your race car.

“I was fortunate to avoid any internal organ damage or broken bones. I did sustain a head injury for which I’m currently being treated. The doctors have been pleased with my progression over the last few days.

“Again, I want to thank each of you, from my partners, teammates and competitors and each and every fan across the country. Thank you everyone for the unparalleled concern and unwavering support. And to the media, who has acted with such respect and class during this time.

“I have spoken with Jack Roush and he has assured me that the number six car will be waiting and ready for my return. I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel and battling for another race win in the Roush Fenway Ford.”

COMMENTS FROM ROUSH FENWAY PRESIDENT STEVE NEWMARK AT PRESS CONFERENCE

“I also spoke to Ryan just before I came on here and in talking to him he wanted to reiterate to me again that his goals for this year haven’t changed.  His objective is to win the 2020 Cup championship, so hopefully that gives you a little insight into his mindset.

 

“What I’d like to do now is give you a little perspective from Roush Fenway, so I’m going to piggyback a little bit on the themes that Ryan touched upon in his statement.  We’ll probably have a little repetition, but I think that’s probably appropriate based on the support that we’ve received over the last few days.

 

“I think everybody understands that the events of Monday and the days that followed it was really kind of a surreal experience for the entire Roush Fenway organization, and probably fit right in to the definition of an emotional rollercoaster.  We went from what we thought was seconds away from winning the Daytona 500 with Ryan, locking into the playoffs, and also having our other car – the 17 Fastenal Ford finish fourth in Chris Buescher’s first race with us.  It was looking like it was gonna be a storybook race for us and a great start to the season and all of that changed in an instant, and we go from not caring about the race, not caring about the competition, in fact I’m not sure that we knew who had actually won the race until a few hours later because the whole later was on Ryan’s safety and well-being.  When you see a teammate and a friend and part of your family in that situation.

 

“So during that process, obviously, Ryan mentioned the gratitude he had toward the Halifax Medical Center.  I also want to recognize another group that was an anchor to us during the entire time and that’s the NASCAR leadership team.  When we arrived at the hospital that night, NASCAR with Matt Humphrey was already there coordinating logistics.  And then during that entire period, so that evening and the days that followed, Jim France, Lesa France, Mike Helton, Steve Phelps, Steve O’Donnell, Eric Nyquist, and Ben Kennedy were either there at the hospital or providing support in whatever way we needed.  I know that really lifted the spirits of Ryan’s family and our entire team to see that, and I think it speaks to the caliber of people that they are when you look at the lengths that they went to support us, and it also gives a lot of faith that we’re in pretty good hands going forward.

 

“For the Roush Fenway organization, it was a pretty agonizing few days.  Obviously, a brutal period that night as we had a lot of our team members down at the end of pit road, just feet from where the accident finished.  There was obviously a lot of uncertainty at that point and I can tell you to a person on the corporate side and the competition side there wasn’t a single one at Roush Fenway that actually wanted to go home that night.  In fact, if we had acquiesced to their wishes, they would have camped out at the hospital waiting until they could actually see Ryan with their own two eyes.

 

“Thankfully, they kind of relented and reluctantly went back because we still had a job to do, and it was a pretty Herculean task for that organization this week.  What we had was a short week to get to the west coast because of the rain delay, and then we also had the uncertainty of who was gonna drive the 6 car, how do you upfit it?  How do you get the right seat in that?  So they flew home that night, were back in the shop at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday morning and then we basically worked 24-hour shifts so we could be here.  I think the results speak for themselves in that we feel like we’ve got two pretty fast race cars, and it’s a tremendous testament to the effort, the work ethic and the passion that whole group showed.  I’m extremely proud to be associated with that organization and that group of individuals.

 

“I also want to thank our partners for their overwhelming and number of reach outs that we received for assistance.  As some of you are aware, Koch Industries was on the car with Ryan in the Daytona 500.  That was their first foray into NASCAR, so pretty interesting introduction as they come in and get the emotional highs and lows in a compressed period of about 30 seconds.  But when we look at what happened over the next few days with Koch Industries, Castrol, Acronis, Wyndham, Oscar Mayer, Coca-Cola, Fastenal, Fifth Third, SunnyD and Ford – all just relentlessly giving us offers for assistance, trying to help Ryan, trying to help his family.  It made us just recognize how blessed we were to have such a good partner group.

 

“Similarly, we received all sorts of reach outs from other drivers, a lot of the drivers visited Ryan, other team owners, team presidents and just across the industry.  I do need to take a minute to give a special thanks to Chip Ganassi and Jim Campbell at Chevy for allowing us to put Ross Chastain in the car.  Once we understood where Ryan’s condition was and it wasn’t life threatening, we obviously had to shift to try to at least make sure that we continued to race and have this season move forward.  So Tuesday morning I called both Chip and Jim to ask for their permission.  I will tell you that they were very short conversations because both of them immediately said, ‘You have our blessing,’ and offered unequivocally and support that they could provide to help us through this situation.  We also talked to Kaulig Racing and Ross’ agent to put this together.

 

“To me, we talk about NASCAR being one big family and that was a pretty big testament to it is that each of them put the personal above the professional and we were in a tough situation and it was nice to see our competitors step up and help us in that situation.

 

“On the team front, I also do want to address any lingering criticisms of Joe Gibbs Racing.  From my perspective, they did absolutely nothing wrong.  They had just won the Daytona 500, which should be a celebratory time, and I know that the minute they were informed that Ryan’s situation was severe, he hadn’t gotten out of the car, that they completely stopped and started praying for him.  Denny came to the hospital that night.  I heard from coach Gibbs.  We heard from Dave Alpern and so we really appreciate the respect that they showed him and it’s nothing that I wouldn’t expect from an organization with that integrity and that level of class.

 

“Lastly, and then we can get to some questions, I really do want to thank the media.  I received a number of emails, texts, reach outs from many of you here today that were reaching out, not as news reporters, but as friends and individuals generally concerned about the well-being of a member of the NASCAR community.  Although we tried to do our best to get you guys updates, we fully recognize that there were a lot of gaps in those updates and that in this day and age of instant communication, social media, that there was immense pressure on most of you out there to fill those gaps with speculation, conjecture, wild theories, and the reality of it is the regular NASCAR reporters didn’t do that and we really appreciate the respect you showed us and how you approached the whole situation.”

 

QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION:

 

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PROCESS OF GETTING ROSS IN THE CAR AND TO GET HIS SEAT FITTED?  IS HIS SITUATION OPEN ENDED WITH YOU?  “The situation unfolded is that when we were at the hospital that evening there was actually no discussion at that point because that wasn’t the focus.  You were 100 percent trying to support the family and just all of us were concerned about Ryan’s situation at that point.  Once we had learned of his status through his dad from the doctors, there was a group of us – Jack Roush, Kevin Kidd, Tommy Wheeler, Scott Graves, myself and Mark Rushbrook from Ford has a conversation about what was the right direction to go, and the first call that Kevin Kidd and I made was to Ross Chastain the next morning, along with Jim and Chip.  At this point, I would say it’s open ended because, I’ll answer another question that I’m sure will come up, is we don’t have a timetable for Ryan’s return.  I can tell you what his timetable would like to be, which is soon as possible, but there’s some other hoops that he’s got to jump through before that happens.  Right now, we’re just taking it one race at a time.  Our arrangement with Ross is if we need him, he should be available.”

 

WHAT PROCESS DOES THE TEAM AND RYAN HAVE TO GO THROUGH FOR HIM TO GAIN CLEARANCE?  “The first thing I would say is that I’m thankful that we’re actually even able to have this dialogue about that question because that was not something any of us were certain about when this happened, so it’s a great conversation to be having.  The reality is there are three groups that are going to dictate when he returns because he has expressed unequivocally that this is where he wants to be and he wants to be back in a race car.  Those three groups are gonna be Ryan and his family, his doctors, and then NASCAR and their medical team.  Our assumption is once all three of those sign off, then we’ll see him back in a race car.”

 

CAN YOU ADDRESS JACK’S REACTION TO THIS?  “I was with Jack.  Jack and I were in the 17 pit box and it was actually an interesting way that it played out.  When the incident happened, we were watching on the screen and then we started to go down towards the end of pit road where the car was.  On our way down there we were told Ryan is out of the car and he’s in an ambulance heading to the hospital, so we actually took a hard left and didn’t go down to where the car was, which was probably fine because we weren’t gonna do anything helpful or contribute anything anyways, but we went straight to the hospital.  We actually got to the hospital and had to grab a police officer on a motorcycle when we were trying to get out of the track because we were stuck and he gave us a nice opening and ride to the hospital.  We got there.  Matt Humphrey was there already coordinating logistics.  Mike Helton showed up soon after, but we were actually there before Ryan got there and Jack’s focus the whole time was we need to kind of more crisis mode, we need to make sure we’re supporting the family, we need to make sure everything is arranged at the hospital, does he have all the medical care.  That was really the dialogue throughout the night and then, quite frankly, we were on pins and needles as I’m sure many of you were waiting for that first indication that it wasn’t life threatening.  The way that it played out is the doctors spoke with Greg Newman, Ryan’s dad, and then Greg immediately conveyed that to us and then probably within a minute after that is when we put out the statement just to make sure that the fans understood that as well.”

 

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE HAVING SOMEONE DIFFERENT IN THE CAR?  CAN RYAN HELP BEING AWAY?  “There’s no doubt that there are challenges, but I think the sense of relief and the wave of relief that’s kind of gone over our organization makes you recognize that these challenges pale in comparison to other challenges that we could have faced, so I really do think you’ve seen everyone step up.  You had challenges of changing the seat, and there’s no doubt that when you look at Ross’ situation it’s tough situation.  He’s running three series this weekend.  He’s never been in any of our cars, but we thought he was the right person to do it and had the right demeanor and the right character to be able to handle this.  As for Ryan, he’s already been involved.  He was on the phone with Scott Graves, his crew chief, calling him because I think he was watching practice.  I believe he’s talked to Ross, so he has been very active in trying to be involved in the direction of the team.”

 

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA OF THE SITUATION WAS DIRE OR WAS IT CLEAR THE INJURIES WERE NOT LIFE THREATENING AT THE TIME YOU GOT TO THE HOSPITAL?  “The first indication we got is what we passed along, that he was in serious condition and it wasn’t life threatening.  As you can probably appreciate, I can’t get into the medical conditions because if HIPAA and other medical privacy laws, but the other piece of it is Ryan actually wants to be the one in front of you to answer those questions.  He and I talked about that and he’s kind of chomping at the bit to get back here and I think he feels that would be most appropriate for him to be behind the mic answering a lot of those questions.”

 

HAS HE SAID ANYTIHNG ABOUT CHANGES HE WOULD WANT TO THE CAR OR RACING AT DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA?  “He hasn’t specifically.  We haven’t discussed that.  He knows that he’s gonna get access.  The people of NASCAR have been phenomenal.  They’ve given access to our organization, our engineers to go over and look at the car, offered it to Ryan.  I think everybody in here knows that Ryan has been an advocate of driver safety for many years.  He uses his engineering degree and is very vocal, so I have no doubt that he’ll be in the middle of that.  It’s an ongoing effort to continue to improve the safety, but from my perspective it’s a testament to the safety that less than 48 hours he was able to walk away after that accident and the reality is most sports have injury reports every week.  The reason we don’t is that it’s pretty rare that we actually have an injury in this sport.”

 

WHAT WAS YOUR EMOTIONAL REACTION?  “It probably affected me the same way it affected a lot of members of our team.  It’s a hard dose of perspective.  You go from being nervous and anxious about the race and thinking that you’re about to have a fantastic start to the season and vindication of a lot of the effort you had over the offseason to realizing those concerns aren’t really that heavy and that weighty and that really the important part is you just go to thinking that I hope he’s all right and this doesn’t impact him going forward.  He has two young, beautiful daughters and thankfully several hours later we kind of got that news and there really was a wave of relief for everybody in our organization.  There’s a group at the hospital – Mike Helton and Jim France and Jack – and I think a lot of prayers were said and I think a lot of people felt they were answered when we got that news.”

 

THOUGHTS ON GETTING A WAIVER UPON RYAN’S RETURN?  “We really don’t know.  I think we haven’t crossed that bridge.  I know what Ryan’s perspective is – he recognizes there’s a precedent.  We haven’t talked about this with NASCAR because it hasn’t been high on the priority list, but it’s something that I think in his mind he’s gonna figure out how he can get back here, get that waiver and then go out and win a race.  We are gonna continue to pursue that vision until we’re told we can’t.”

 

HAS RYAN USED HIS SENSE OF HUMOR OR MADE ANY COMMENTS ABOUT THE CRASH?  “I’m glad you recognize his sense of humor.  As an aside, when Chris Buescher started with us this year he was asked what one of the most difficult things has been for him in the transition and he said it’s trying to figure out at times whether Ryan Newman is being serious or sarcastic.  I think we’ve seen that in our conversations in the last few days, so that personality type is not impacted, but we haven’t talked a whole lot about the actual race.”

 

COULD WE SEE RYAN AT THE TRACK BEFORE HE’S ACTUALLY BACK IN THE CAR?  “It’s a good question.  It’s not something we’ve discussed, but I wouldn’t see any reason why not.  I know his objective is to get back as quickly as he can and get in the car, but I could see the minute Ryan is given the green light to be back at the track he’ll be back out there whether it’s getting himself ready or helping Ross to prepare.  I’m certain that will be high on his priority list.”

 

DOES IT SURPRISE YOU AT ALL RYAN’S APPARENT INVINCIBILITY AND IS IT TRUE HE ASKED FOR DONUTS WHEN HE WOKE UP?  “It does not surprise me.  He is as tough as they come and it was also refreshing to be in the hospital room listening to his family make fun of him for having no neck and for just being completely thick.  And there is truth to the rumor that when he heard there were donuts down in the room where we were all congregated that he asked his dad to confiscate some and bring them back up to his room.  I don’t know what happened them, but not a surprising development.”

 

 

NASCAR won’t change overtime rules after Ryan Newman crash

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Changes won’t be made to overtime rules following Ryan Newman‘s violent crash in an overtime finish of the Daytona 500, a NASCAR executive said Saturday.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, spoke Saturday about NASCAR’s response to Newman’s crash in the immediate seconds after the car came to rest and in the days since with its investigation.

O’Donnell also said he’d “stand by” NASCAR’s caution procedures in the wake of the crash.

O’Donnell appeared with John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of racing operations, whose duties include overseeing the sanctioning body’s medical policies and procedures, and John Patalak, NASCAR senior director of safety engineers, who oversees safety functions and NASCAR’s R&D Center.

O’Donnell provided no information on Newman’s medical status, citing HIPAA laws. It was stated that Newman’s medical team will have to clear Newman to return to racing. NASCAR also will have to clear him. After Newman was released from the hospital Wednesday, Roush Fenway Racing said there was no timetable for his return.

During the news conference, O’Donnell outlined the response by safety and medical crews to Newman’s crash:

  • The safety truck arrived on the scene 19 seconds after Newman’s car came to rest.
  • One of the three trauma doctors arrived 33 seconds after Newman’s car came to rest.
  • A paramedic entered Newman’s car two seconds later.
  • For the next 3 1/2 minutes, two doctors and a paramedic attended to Newman.
  • The decision was made to roll Newman’s car over while continuing to aid the driver 4 minutes, 5 seconds after the car came to rest.
  • The car was rolled over and the extrication team began cutting the roof as a doctor continued to provide treatment to Newman 6:56 after car came to rest.
  • The roof was removed from the car 11:10 after Newman’s car came to rest.
  • The extrication of Newman completed 15:40 after the car came to rest .
  • During the entire time doctors and paramedics were attending to Newman except when the car was rolled over.

NASCAR took the cars driven by Ryan Newman and Corey LaJoie to its R&D Center to continue the investigation.

“On Tuesday, that started with the laying out of the vehicles in a secure space, where we have all the components and associated elements that come from the cars on the race track as well as the driver’s safety equipment,” Patalak said. “Really starting from the outside of the vehicles, slowing working our way in and assessing each of the individual safety systems and how they’ve performed individually, as well as together as a complete assembly, then ultimately how the two cars interacted together during the crash.”

Patalak listed “many sources of data” NASCAR is using during the investigation:

  • The incident data recorder in each car.
  • Footage from the high-speed camera that is inside each Cup car and pointed at the driver to see what a driver goes through in a collision.
  • ECU data and available telemetry data from the cars.
  • Broadcast and non-broadcast video sources.

“We’re currently working on synchronizing all of those data sets together in time … to create full picture of what happened as the crash unfolded,” Patalak said. “We’re working together with Roush Fenway Racing as well as outside experts as we continue to investigate and look forward to being able to provide more information sometime soon.”

O’Donnell said one of the reasons details on the wreck weren’t provided Saturday was that NASCAR hasn’t “had the chance to go through this with Ryan and his team, with the other drivers in the garage, but Ryan’s feedback as we go through this will be key. I think that’ll be a key component as it’s always been throughout the process when he’s been racing.”

O’Donnell expressed surprise that “we haven’t heard a lot (from drivers) about blocking or different things that occurred during the race.”

With the crash having happened five days ago, O’Donnell said “Our job now is to have continued dialogue with the drivers, see what happens in terms of this race package. Where there any changes from Talladega to Daytona in terms of how they races? How that may have contributed or not to this incident and if we can make some changes we will.”

Roush Fenway Racing President Steve Newmark will speak to the media for the first time after the crash in a news conference scheduled for 12:45 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Newman was released from the hospital Wednesday, less then 42 hours after being injured in the Daytona 500.

Roush Fenway Racing announced the news in a release and via Twitter, posting a photo of Newman, clad in T-shirt and jeans, walking from Halifax Medical Center while holding the hands of his two daughters.

It was the second photo that the team had posted Wednesday; earlier reporting that Newman was walking around the hospital in good spirits and playing with his daughters.

Later that day, the team announced Ross Chastain would drive Newman’s car this weekend in Las Vegas while stating there was no timetable for Newman’s return.

More: Corey LaJoie texts with Ryan Newman, thanks fans for support

More Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Krissie Newman also posted video of the family leaving the hospital.

 

Not long after his release, Newman met up with his friends Martin Truex Jr. and his girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, in the driver motorhome lot at Daytona International Speedway.

‘Jovial’ Ryan Newman showing ‘great improvement’ after Daytona wreck

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In a statement Wednesday, Roush Fenway Racing said Ryan Newman is walking and “continues to show great improvement” following his last-lap crash in Monday’s Daytona 500.

The team also posted a picture of him standing and smiling with his two daughters, Brooklyn Sage and Ashlyn Olivia.

The update came less than 24 hours after Roush Fenway Racing had announced Tuesday afternoon Newman was awake and talking with his family and doctors. Newman was transported immediately to Halifax Medical Center after Monday’s wreck and has been recovering there since then from his unspecified injuries.

Nearly two hours later, the team announced that Newman had been released from the hospital.

Newman was listed in serious condition Monday night with injuries that were described as “not life threatening,” according to a statement from Roush Fenway Racing.

Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing, posted a statement on social media at 11:51 a.m. Tuesday thanking the NASCAR community for “the incredible outpouring of support and compassion” and that Newman remained in the hospital. He stated updates on his condition will be provided as they become available.

Newman, 42, was injured after a chaotic last lap in the Daytona 500. He passed Denny Hamlin for the lead on the backstretch, getting a push from Ryan Blaney.

Exiting Turn 4, Blaney went low to challenge for the lead. Newman dropped down the track to block, and Blaney tried to push Newman toward the win.

The contact turned Newman’s car to the right. He slammed the outside wall and turned upside down. Corey LaJoie’s car slammed into Newman’s car on the driver side. After sliding for a few hundred feet on its roof, the No. 6 Ford came to a stop at the exit of the pits.

Friday 5: As season nears, a bigger deadline looms for NASCAR

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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While the Cup garage opens in two weeks at Daytona International Speedway to begin the 2020 season, a bigger deadline is looming.

It is less than 10 weeks from NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ self-imposed deadline of announcing the 2021 schedule around April 1.

Phelps made it clear in November what will be key elements to the upcoming schedule.

“We’re looking at where we’re going to have the most competitive racing that we can have, where we’re going to have full grandstands, and what does that market look like, is it a new market that we can service,” Phelps said the morning of last season’s finale in Miami.

Tracks that host Cup races — now mostly owned by NASCAR — were put on notice by Phelps’ comments.

“The two things that teams need: We need butts in seats and eyeballs on the TV,” said Steve Newmark, Roush Fenway Racing president, this week.

He stated how important attendance is for teams by noting the growth at Watkins Glen International, which had its fifth consecutive sellout of grandstand seating last year.

Fans at Watkins Glen in 2019. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“When I started in 2010, we didn’t take a lot of partners to Watkins Glen,” Newmark said of sponsors. “Now you take a partner to Watkins Glen in a heartbeat. It is sold out, the energy there. I understand the capacity at Watkins Glen is not the same but it has this feeling, and I think really what we’re trying from a team perspective, from a Roush Fenway perspective, that’s the most important thing.

“I want to go to areas that embrace having the race, that people show up in the stands, that there is a lot of energy. That’s where I want to take my partners. I want them to see their brand in that type of setting.

“Some venues can do that with two races. Other venues it’s been more of a struggle. I would love to see us try these new venues. There will be an energy around that.”

Among Newmark’s suggestions of where NASCAR should consider racing at some point: “Mexico, Canada, street courses, different road courses, different short tracks, look at it all.”

Ryan Newman, who enters his second year at Roush Fenway Racing, said that NASCAR should consider running a Cup race on dirt.

“I’m not trying to bash anybody, we just can’t keep doing the same things we’ve been doing,” he said this week. “We just can’t. We’ve got to mix it up as a sport. We’re working on doing that and I know that.

NASCAR Trucks at Eldora Speedway in 2019. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

“But we’ve got to mix it up and make the fans want to see something different, want to see something new. A different driver. A different venue. A different type of anything. Not just a Next Gen car, that’s a part of it. … Going dirt racing can be done with the Next Gen car. If Junior Johnson was here, he’d tell you, ‘Let’s go race dirt.’ I’m telling you.”

Only the Truck series races on dirt, competing at Eldora Speedway. Cup last raced on a dirt track Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, North Carolina. Richard Petty won that race.

As the sport continues to evolve — adding a night race at Martinsville, a doubleheader weekend at Pocono, and the debut of the Next Gen car next season — the makeup of the schedule in the coming years will be among the biggest tasks for NASCAR officials.

2. A big deal

After winning the Chili Bowl for the first time in 13 attempts, Kyle Larson said moments after the triumph on the MavTV broadcast: “Its a pretty different range of emotions 365 days later. I feel like I’m going to pass out. I’m sorry NASCAR, I’m sorry Daytona, but this is the biggest (expletive) race I’ve ever won. I hope to win Daytona in a few weeks but this is bad ass.”

Larson, who lost the Chili Bowl the previous year on the last lap, later explained his comment in his press conference.

“It will be fun to watch the dirt fans and the NASCAR fans go at it and maybe get a text from (NASCAR’s Steve) O’Donnell and probably (Chip Ganassi Racing chief operating officer) Doug Duchardt,” Larson said.

“I think they understand the energy that this race brings to me and how much I want to win and have wanted to win it. Obviously, I’ve said in the past that the Chili Bowl, to me, is bigger than the Daytona 500. Obviously, it’s not just because of the size of the crowd and the purse of the Daytona 500, nothing compares with that I’ve raced in.

“On a personal level, just how close I’ve been to winning this race, I think that’s where I think this race has meant more to me. But now maybe after winning the Chili Bowl, the Daytona 500 will be that next race that’s going to mean the most to me that I want to win. It’s just been a great little run and hopefully we can turn this into some good momentum into the NASCAR season.”

Ryan Newman, who competed at the Chili Bowl Nationals for the first time, defended Larson’s excitement with winning that event.

“There’s 360 drivers, 360 teams going for one trophy. That’s spectacular,” Newman said. “I raced midgets races before where I won and there were 16 cars that entered and I felt really good about it. Going back to the Kyle Larson (comment), when there’s 360 (drivers) and you have been working … your whole life to get that trophy, it makes it special. It makes it more special than anybody who is out of his shoes to understand.”

3. Memorable win

NASCAR’s test this week on the Indy road course for the Xfinity Series will give those drivers a chance to accomplish a first — be the first Xfinity driver to win on that circuit.

Brad Keselowski after winning the 2012 Nationwide race at Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Brad Keselowski won the first Xfinity race at Indy (it was known as the Nationwide Series at the time) in 2012. That remains a special accomplishment.

“It sticks with you,” he told NBC Sports. “I’m proud of it. … It makes me … a little sad because I don’t get to compete in that series anymore with all the rules, it’s not feasible. So there is a little bit of sorrow I have with that question (of winning there) but it certainly was a defining moment for my career.”

Keselowski also won the final Xfinity race at Lucas Oil Raceway — where the series competed from 1982-2011 before moving to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

4. 15 and counting …

Call it a good sign for some, an omen for others or one crazy coincidence but each of the past 15 Cup champions have had an even-number car number.

The last driver to win the championship with an odd number on the car was Kurt Busch. He won the 2004 title (the inaugural Chase) driving the No. 97 car.

So, if one believes in signs, the even-number streak could be a bad sign this season for drivers with odd numbers, such as Busch (No. 1), Chase Elliott (No. 9), Denny Hamlin (No. 11) and Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19) among others.

5. NASCAR at Rolex

Kyle Busch is the only active Cup driver competing in this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway (coverage will be on NBC, NBCSN and NBC Gold: Track Pass), today’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge will have some additional NASCAR flavor.

MORE: A “crucial” year for Hailie Deegan’s career begins today at Daytona

MORE: Full Rolex 24 Hours coverage at MotorSportsTalk

The four-hour endurance race begins at 1:10 pm. ET (and will be streamed on the NBC Gold: Track Pass) and includes Xfinity drivers Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric. Also competing will be Hailie Deegan, who moved from Toyota’s development program to Ford’s in the offseason. She’ll spend most of her time this season running in the ARCA Series. Deegan and Briscoe will co-drive the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4.