Ryan Newman needs another “Bloomin’” win.
It was in his very first outing with sponsor Outback Steakhouse that Newman reigned victorious in NASCAR’s version of overtime at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
This weekend, as the No. 39 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) takes the track for the second time this season wearing the colors of Outback Steakhouse, Newman and his team find themselves in need of another victory in Saturday’s annual Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway as the weeks wind down toward the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
Thanks to Sunday’s eighth-place finish at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Newman held onto the second of two Chase wild-card spots with three races to go before NASCAR’s version of the playoffs begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Only the top-10 drivers in the points are locked into the 12-driver, 10-race Chase. Positions 11 and 12 are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points who have the most wins. In the event multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Kasey Kahne holds the 11th-place wild-card spot thanks to his two victories this season, the most of any driver outside the top-10. Newman maintains the 12th-place wild-card spot by virtue of his April 1 victory at Martinsville combined with his 13th position in the point standings, which is higher than his fellow single-race winners in the top-20 in points – Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano.
There’s no doubt it will remain a hotly contested battle to earn a wild-card berth, and Newman and his Outback Steakhouse team are doing everything in their power to keep the wild card in their possession. For Newman, there’s one sure way he could help his cause, and that would be to get a win this weekend and go two-for-two in the Outback Steakhouse livery.
Newman enters this weekend’s Irwin Tools Night Race with six consecutive finishes of 11th or better, five of which have been top-10s. He hopes to add to those impressive numbers by continuing his recent string of solid performances at the .533-mile Bristol bullring.
History has shown that any race around the high-banked, concrete Bristol oval is one of survival. And, thanks to changes to the racetrack since the March event, there are a lot of unanswered questions as to whether Saturday night’s race will be filled with the beating, banging, rooting and gouging around the Bristol track of old, or if it will be like the more recent races there that featured more passing and less wrecking.
Regardless, the Tennessee short track has been one of the best on the circuit for Newman since joining forces with SHR in 2009. In seven previous starts with the No. 39 team at Bristol, Newman has one pole position, an outside pole position, and he’s posted five top-10 finishes with his worst result at the half-mile track being a 16th-place effort in March 2010.
While Newman and top-10 finishes this season have become synonymous with “Free Bloomin’ Onions” at Outback Steakhouse on Mondays, the 11-year Sprint Cup veteran is looking for more than just a top-10 finish this weekend at Bristol. The South Bend, Ind., native wants his first Bloomin’ win at the concrete half-mile oval and his second victory in two starts in Outback Steakhouse colors.
A win would give both Newman and his fans something to celebrate. A Bristol victory would put Newman a giant step closer to a Chase berth, and it would mean free Bloomin’ Onions at Outback Steakhouses every Monday in September for fans everywhere. And that would be a Bloomin’ win for everybody.