Ryan Newman apparently didn't see the improvement he wanted.
The 30-year-old Sprint Cup driver and Daytona 500 champion on Monday announced he would leave Penske Racing at the end of the season — by "mutual" agreement — ending a nine-year partnership in which he won 13 races and 43 poles but never became the championship contender his first few seasons seemed to foreshadow.
Newman, who is 16th in Sprint Cup points, told the Times on June 17 "my goal is to be the best driver I can be and get the best results, wherever that is, whether it's Penske Racing or any other place. I have to be fair to myself and my long-term goals and everything else, and (team owner) Roger (Penske) knows that."
Newman blamed many of his woes on engine issues, and team president Tim Cindric acknowledged problems while defending his shop. Cindric expressed in an interview with the Times a desire to retain Newman, but said there were contingencies in place if Newman left.
Among them could be David Stremme, whom the team signed as a test driver after he was replaced in Ganassi Racing's No. 40 Dodge by Dario Franchitti. That program has since been shut down.
Helio Castroneves said he will not be among the contingency plans for the No. 12 Dodge. Recently signed to a new long-term deal, the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner said "no matter what happens, for the next few years I am going to be in the IndyCar series" with Penske. Three-time IRL champion Sam Hornish moved from Penske's IndyCar program to his No. 77 Dodge Sprint Cup program this season.
Deposed Hendrick Motorsports driver Casey Mears is an interesting possibility, as his uncle Rick, who won four Indy 500s for Penske, is still employed by the organization.
Newman, too, had contingencies. He joked in June, "I know things you don't," a possible reference to Tony Stewart's since-announced deal to assume half-ownership of Haas CNC Racing, where he will also drive. The Allstate 400, July 27 at Indianapolis, would seem to be the perfect backdrop to announce Newman as Stewart's new driver as both are from Indiana.