Including the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, three of Newman’s past four wins have represented a virgin trip to victory lane at a new track.
In 16 Sprint Cup victories, Newman has won at 11 ovals ranging in diversity from Daytona International Speedway‘s mammoth 2.5-mile oval to the 1.5-mile environs of Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway to the 1-mile ovals of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
STANDINGS: Sprint Cup points leaders (6 races)
The triumph at Martinsville’s 0.526-mile bullring added a grandfather clock trophy to his log-cabin home in Statesville, N.C., and buffed up his résumé.
“People ask me, ‘What is your favorite racetrack?’ ” Newman said. “I have some tracks I like better than others, but there’s not a track that I dislike. I’m a contender at a lot of racetracks, and (that) just goes to show if we get the right situation and package together for the (Chase for the Sprint Cup), with the versatility in the racetracks, we’ll be in good shape.”
After making the 10-race Chase championship run two of the past three seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing, Newman took another significant step Sunday toward contention in two ways. He is eighth in points and has an inside track on the two wild cards awarded to drivers ranked between 11th and 20th after 26 races.
“Just glad I finally contributed,” he joked.
The Chevrolets of Newman and teammate Tony Stewart have combined to win three of six in 2012 and eight of the past 16.
Stewart’s seven wins in the stretch also have featured diversity — all at different tracks and four of varying length.
“It’s the strength overall for Stewart-Haas,” Newman said. “Some guys are only capable of winning at certain racetracks, and we have proved that Stewart-Haas is capable of a lot.”
Crew chief Tony Gibson, a former Alan Kulwicki crewmember who took special meaning in Newman’s win because it was 19 years to the day of the 1992 champion’s death in a plane crash, said, “It’s great for our company, and it shows the equipment that we have. I was getting a little nervous for a while. We had 27½ great races (of 36) last year, and we failed in the Chase. We didn’t run as good as we needed to run, and Stewart took off like a ball of fire. It’s disappointing for us because we know we have the same equipment, and we should be winning those races, too. It puts pressure on us and makes us work harder.”
Martinsville marked the second-earliest victory in a season for Newman (who opened 2008 with a Daytona 500 win), but he was tempering expectations Sunday. Half his career victories came in 2003, and he hasn’t had a multiwin season since 2004. Though he has made the Chase four times, Newman hasn’t finished higher than sixth in points.
“Ultimately this is just one small steppingstone,” Newman said. “We have to build a pretty nice sidewalk.”