Season in Review: Newman and No. 6 Team
A Look Back at the 2020 NASCAR Cup Season
CONCORD, N.C., (Nov. 23, 2020) – Rollercoaster of emotions: a phrase often used in everyday language. But, for Ryan Newman and the No. 6 team it defined their 2020 season.
For the 42-year-old, already a Daytona 500 Champion in 2008, he and his team were mere feet away from another Harley J. Earl trophy in the season kickoff. But first rewind to the start of the most recognized race of NASCAR’s season, one that was affected by weather – a theme throughout 2020 – that pushed the conclusion of the 62nd Daytona 500 to a rare Monday night finish.
Newman, adhering to his typical Superspeedway plan, kept his fenders clean throughout the event and set himself up for a late run at the checkered flag. He and teammate Chris Buescher lined up nose-to-tail on the final overtime restart, pushing Newman to the lead down the back straightaway on the final lap. His lead held until a mistimed bump from behind in the tri-oval, sending his team from a high of excitement to a low of shock and concern as Newman’s Ford Mustang flipped and rolled down the banking.
Though both cars were scored with top-10 results, the finishing order was the least of anyone’s worries as Newman’s car sat upside down, flames visible, with silence on the team radio. After an extensive process to safely remove the 18-time Cup winner from his machine, a miraculous comeback ensued as Newman walked out of the hospital just two days later.
At the time it was unclear how long Newman would be out of the seat to recover. Little did he – and all of the world – know that a global pandemic would soon halt much of everyday life in March. At the time Newman had missed just three races – Las Vegas, Fontana and Phoenix – as NASCAR’s West Coast swing was the final on-track action for the sport for a while.
In a final step to making a return, whenever that opportunity would arise, the Indiana native would have to complete an on-track test session at Darlington Raceway, the same site where NASCAR ultimately returned to racing in mid-May.
From there, even Newman will tell you the season was a tough battle for the entire team. Not because of his health, but because of the lack of on-track time that he and the rest of the garage would have to endure. That theme was a mainstay throughout the remainder of the season, as NASCAR wiped practice and qualifying from almost all weekend schedules to minimize added exposure surrounding COVID-19.
“There’s no doubt (the schedule change) has affected it and the lack of practice has impacted our team,” Newman told Claire B. Lang on Jack’s Garage in a recent interview on SiriusXM. “I think Kyle Busch has been pretty open about how he wants to practice to make his race car better, either way we definitely want more track time. We have to do our due diligence to make our best effort every week without that practice, and that makes it more of a challenge,” he added.
In his first race back at Darlington Newman ran 15th, one of four top-15s in the first six races back. Outside of a late season top-10, his best run came in the first race at Martinsville, where Daytona 500 partner Koch Industries returned to the car for a 12th-place run.
The summer months brought an emotional return to Daytona, where the series visited the road course in August for the first time. Newman ran 19th in his rookie race at the hybrid course, setting him up for one final shot at the playoffs for the summer race two weeks later. Again, in his typical superspeedway strategy, Newman remained selective with his moves but his race and playoff hopes were cut short with less than 15 to go after being collected in a multi-car incident with no room to avoid the wreck.
In total Newman finished the year with just two top-10s, highlighted by a season-best sixth-place run in a chaotic fall Talladega race. Off the track, it was a positive turn of events for the No. 6 team as Newman welcomed Guaranteed Rate to the car for a one-race deal in Loudon. That partnership evolved with an additional 11 races to close out the year, solidifying Newman and the team’s position from a business perspective.
All in all, Newman recognizes the struggles that 2020 presented, both in how it began and what it turned into.
“I feel like last year we somewhat righted the ship and at least got it into the right ocean, then the water drained out of the ocean this year,” Newman said. “We’ve just got to unite and get those answers. Not only are we behind, we’re continually going to be behind if we don’t hit the turbo button.”
So, after a rocky 2020, the focus is clear: get the ship turned back in the right direction.
“It’s going to take some time,” Newman said. “This offseason no doubt is one of our biggest challenges to stay focused on making our race cars go faster and not focusing on enjoying just a little bit of free time, because we’ve had free time with this schedule.”