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. Rays morning after: 5 mistakes that led to loss to Blue Jays


    We've already documented elsewhere what the Rays didn't do, how they failed to take advantage of a prime opportunity to win Wednesday's game, getting just one run after loading the bases in the seventh with one out and three of …

    Jake Faria make too many mistakes, the failure to execute costing him repeatedly.
  2. Rays have their chances, but end up with another loss (w/video)

    The Heater

    TORONTO — The litany of games the Rays have given away this season is long enough, arguably too lengthy. So the only way to get to the postseason is make up for some of those losses by grabbing some wins when the opportunity is presented, especially at this time of year when the margin is diminished and the stakes …

    Associated Press
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Wednesday's Rays-Blue Jays game

    The Heater

    You wonder if the scouting reports and/or workload are catching up to rookie RHP Jake Faria. The bottom line wasn't bad again, three runs in 51/3 innings, but he's having to work harder to get there.

  4. Rays journal: Chris Archer eager for eventful final stretch

    The Heater

    TORONTO — RHP Chris Archer takes the mound today for the Rays as they head into the final 40 games of the season with little margin for error as they battle for an American League playoff spot.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) takes a moment on the mound in the second inning of the game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, August 6, 2017.
  5. Tim Tebow's slump continues, as does fan support


    CLEARWATER — On July 29, playing against the Charlotte Stone Crabs, Tim Tebow smacked a mammoth three-run homer, helping the St. Lucie Mets cruise to a 10-3 victory at Charlotte Sports Park.

    St. Lucie’s Tim Tebow, shown Monday at Spectrum Field, struggled at the plate Wednesday against the Threshers.