Ryan Newman is searching for a ride in the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, but after winning Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he's probably the No. 1 free agent right now.
A few weeks after receiving a phone call from team owner and longtime friend Tony Stewart, informing him that he would not be back with Stewart-Haas Racing next year, Newman not only won a Sprint Cup race in his home state of Indiana but scored a victory in one of the series' most prestigious events of the season as well. He won the 2008 Daytona 500 during his final year with Penske Racing.
Newman, who grew up about 150 miles north of this historic 2.5-mile racetrack in South Bend, capitalized on a late-race pit strategy, changing just two tires, and outran Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps to win the Brickyard 400 for the first time in his 13th attempt. Johnson made a four-tire change during his last stop, which would cost him a shot at winning the Brickyard 400 for the fifth time and therefore place him in a tie with Formula One legend Michael Schumacher for most victories at Indy.
Even though this year's Brickyard 400 was truly a Sunday afternoon snoozer in front of a dismal crowd, this was a much-needed win for Newman in his hopes of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. It also helped his efforts in finding a ride for next season.
Two weeks before Indy, frustration set in for Newman when he finished 39th at New Hampshire and dropped from 16th to 19th in the point standings. He was involved in a late-race crash with Kurt Busch. Kurt's younger brother, Kyle Busch, later bashed Newman, saying he was "the biggest stupid idiot out here and a big ogre."
Newman redeemed himself at Indy, where he snapped a 49-race winless streak and moved back to 16th in points.
"I think obviously it helps," Newman said. "The emotions have been an absolute roller coaster. Loudon (N.H.) was a disaster. We got crashed out, everything that was said. We got through all that stuff. Talked about it.
"That weekend off I think was good timing, to be able to hit control, alt, delete. (Crew chief) Matt (Borland) did an amazing job to come here with a fast race car, give me what I needed. We all did it together. Not the guys just here, but the guys at the shop, the pit crew. You all know it's a huge team sport. It makes it better looking for something for 2014, also for Matt. There's a lot of questions to be answered. We'll get through all that."
Kevin Harvick is leaving Richard Childress Racing at season's end to join SHR, driving the No. 4 Chevrolet. Harvick will be teammates with Stewart and Danica Patrick. Stewart revealed at New Hampshire that his team will not expand to a four-car operation next year, which made Newman the odd man out.
For now, the win gave Newman, Borland and the No. 39 team a lot of momentum with six races to go before the Chase begins. Newman is currently third in the wild card rankings. Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. hold the two wild cards, with both drivers having one victory each as well.
"We were making for a special time to make all this stuff happen," Newman said. "I got fired a couple weeks ago, come back here, win the pole, win the race. It's all because of hard effort. It's all because they (No. 39 team) haven't given up. They want to win just as bad as I do."
Borland served as Newman's crew chief for five years at Penske. They won 12 races and 37 poles together. The two were reunited at the beginning of this season.
Will Borland join Newman wherever he goes in '14?
"At this point I'm not sure what next year is going to bring," Borland said. "Right now, 100 percent of my focus and our whole team's focus is on doing as best we can in these next six races and the next 16 (races remaining this season)."
If for some reason they don't work together in the future, Newman has thought of a plan for the both of them down the road.
"Going to open up a fruit stand in Statesville (N.C.) if anybody is interested," Newman jokingly said during his post-race press conference.
Borland asked, "Do I get to drive the tractor?"
Newman replied, "You get to drive the tractor. You also get to change the oil in the tractor."
That plan would seem more likely to happen after they've retired.