Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Newman's struggles may lead him elsewhere

Ryan Newman, who drives the No. 12 Dodge for Penske Racing, is 15th in the point standings — 111 points out of 12th place for a spot in the Chase for the Championship.

\uFEFFGetty Images

Ryan Newman, who drives the No. 12 Dodge for Penske Racing, is 15th in the point standings — 111 points out of 12th place for a spot in the Chase for the Championship.

TITUSVILLE — Ryan Newman never dreamed of being an astronaut. A race car driver, that was always the thing.

There's a bit of irony in that he became a NASCAR driver nicknamed "Rocketman."

But there was Newman two weeks ago at Kennedy Space Center, sitting in the cockpit of a 113-foot-wide, 5.5-million-pound "Crawler-Transporter." It was built in an era when the men who flew into space and those who made sure they got there wore starched white shirts, thin black ties and short-cropped hair.

The "crawler," much to his amusement, had been fitted with a touch pad to help computers guide the behemoth, which swills a gallon of diesel every 42 feet, and its Space Shuttle payload down the 7-mile, Alabama river-rock encrusted path to the launch pad.

"I said, 'You guys did the same job 40 years ago without computers. What's so special about new touch-screen computers?' "

It's kind of how Newman feels about his Penske Racing No. 12 Dodge right now. All that technology, all of that intelligence, but so little speed. NASCAR isn't supposed to be rocket science.

Newman felt a lot better leaving Daytona International Speedway in February — as winner of the 50th Daytona 500 — than he feels returning for the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday, 15th in driver points and 111 points out of 12th place and the Chase for the Championship. His next trip to Daytona will be with a new team unless performance improves, he said.

"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," said the 30-year-old, who has 13 wins since breaking into NASCAR with Penske in 2000. "I have to be fair to myself and my long-term goals and everything else, and Roger knows that. We've talked about that. It's no secret."

Newman said he has a contract offer, "but I told Roger I am not in a position to fulfill that yet, depending on our performance. The performance of our team and his organization will make or break my position."

Newman auditioned a new ride in his Kennedy Space Center tour, becoming the first civilian to drive the "Astronaut Van," the weathered Airstream with the matted blue interior that has ferried shuttle crews to the pad since the program's first launch in 1981.

It handled just like the family vans of his youth, but he thought it had some potential for mischief as he prepared to ply the roads that dissect the sprawling base.

"He wanted to peel out around the security guard," said Janet Petro, space center deputy director and former St. Petersburg resident. "But we said it was probably not a good idea."

Petro said Newman, who has a bachelor's degree in vehicle structural engineering from Purdue, had a "sense of the history of it" and asked specific questions about NASA programs.

"The engineering and the speed aspect seems to really appeal to him," she said.

Ronnie King, who works for contractor United Space Alliance, didn't drive for the first time since 1995. With little to do, the self-described Dale Jarrett fan had a chance to consider Newman.

"He's shorter than I thought he would be. TV doesn't do him justice," he said. "D.J.'s kind of tall. Normal guy, though."

Newman was better than normal when he last left Daytona. He was a winner for the first time in 81 races. He had 800 horsepower of momentum for what he hoped would be a season of resurgence after finishing 18th in 2006 and 13th in 2007 in points.

But momentum waned quickly amid what he considers engine shortfalls, wrecks and misfortune. He has five top-10 finishes and just one top-five finish in the 16 races after the Daytona 500.

"We had momentum," he said.

But re-entry has been a rough ride.

Brant James can be reached at or (727) 893-8804.

Newman's struggles may lead him elsewhere 07/01/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 2, 2008 8:35am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Cup-winning Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk makes Hockey Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman said Dave Andreychuk's name has surfaced often the past eight years with the selection committee.

    30 Oct 2001:  Left wing Dave Andreychuk #25 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates towards the blue line during the NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.  The Maple Leafs defeated the Lightning 3-2.  Mandatory Credit:  Dave Sanford /Allsport
  2. Rays acquire slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from Marlins

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chaim Bloom said the Rays weren't necessarily in the market for a shortstop. The team has a number of those. But when the Marlins recently began shopping Adeiny Hechavarria, well, that was too much to pass up.

    Adeiny Hechavarria has emerged as one of baseball’s top defensive shortstops in the past three seasons with the Marlins.
  3. Rays at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, Pittsburgh

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Pirates

    7:05, PNC Park

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Probable pitchers

    Rays: Alex Cobb (6-5, 4.05)

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Alex Cobb #53 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
  4. Lightning journal: Forward Yanni Gourde agrees to two-year deal

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Just three years ago, Yanni Gourde was fighting to stay in pro hockey.

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA108
  5. What they're saying about Dave Andreychuk making Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    "Dave helped me so much when I was just starting my career, a young kid that was looking to find his way as a hockey player, a person and a member of the Tampa Bay community. In addition to watching him compile such awe-inspiring statistics, I remember him as a big brother to me and many others, making sure all the …