Ryan Newman enjoyed his welcome back to the NASCAR Cup Series on Saturday at Darlington Raceway in the first of what’s expected to be a handful of races for Rick Ware Racing.
The former Daytona 500 winner hasn’t run a race since the finale in 2021 but fell right back into a rhythm, qualifying 26th in the No. 51 Ford. He found the adjustment to driving the Next Gen car easier than expected.
“It’s fun to be back and at my favorite racetrack,” Newman said. “I will say that the practice and qualifying session was less dynamic than I thought it was going to be. The changes from the old car, the shifting, and all that stuff — I felt like I adapted to all that stuff rather quickly.
“But the track is still my favorite, so that made it a lot easier. It’s easier to dance with a girl that knows how to dance.”
It was perfect timing for Newman to make his return as far as balancing time with his daughters and there being an open seat. He’s never stopped wanting to be a Cup Series driver, but it was about finding the right opportunity.
“I literally started this conversation prior to Martinsville and it was by accident when I texted Tommy Baldwin asking him about an opportunity to race a modified,” said Newman. “He asked me if I wanted to go to Martinsville, and I said, ‘In a modified?’ And he goes, ‘No, in a Cup car.’
“It all worked out for us to put all this together and do this, so thanks to Jacob Companies and Biohaven and Rick Ware Racing to give us the opportunity to…I say play, but ultimately I feel like we’ve got a pretty competitive car that we just have to execute and see if we can move up from where we start.”
Another variable that plays into it being the right opportunity is the race car. Newman knows he’s not driving a winning car with Rick Ware, but Next Gen has equalized the competition, and he believes he can be competitive.
“When you tell the guys that they have to put this nut, this washer, this bolt, this whatever, and have all these tolerances, then you’re taking a lot of the team characterization out of performance,” Newman said. “When I left, Gibbs was stout. Hendrick was stout. And there were obvious advantages per chassis that grandfathered in, who had the best nose and things like that. So, I think it’s a good opportunity for me to sample where the series is right now.”
Newman hasn’t been out of the loop while away, staying tuned into what’s been going on, especially the development of the new car. Next Gen is in its second year of action, and for a while Newman was hesitant about where things stood with safety. He felt proven right with the injuries seen last season, but said he’s racing at Darlington because he feels comfortable.
“It’s fun to be back, and it’s fun to have the opportunity,” he said. “I look forward to tomorrow.”
Rick Ware Racing announced Newman for select races this season, but it’s unclear where he’s going to appear after Darlington. Newman was also tightlipped about what was next.
“I told them, ‘The only way I’m going to do this and continue to do this is if it’s fun,’” he said. “Today was fun, so we’ll see.”