Given Ryan Newman's recent form in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, the livery of the #31 car should really be all-black to match that of the B52 stealth bomber. That's because despite staying off everyone's radar all season, Newman is still right on target as far as the title battle goes.
Newman kept his nose clean while those around him at Martinsville Speedway were falling out in various spectacular fashion. He went on to take the final restart on Sunday in eighth and then surged to cross the line in third place just behind Jeff Gordon, to collect his fifth straight top-ten finish in the play-offs.
"It was fun to have at least our highest running position be the last lap of the race," said Newman after the finish. "The strategy of two tyres there at the end worked out good for us. Right number of laps with the guys that stayed out, kept the guys behind us that had four tyres.
"In the end it was a crazy restart at Martinsville, which we all expected," he added. "We were fortunate to make it up from eighth to third there. Had a pretty good restart, got down to the bottom when I needed to. Those guys were kind of all jumbled up. I got into the back of Clint [Bowyer] a little bit there, I apologise to him. But I had [Joey Logano] pushing me all the way through the corner, I don't know there was a whole lot I could have done any different."
Few had given Newman much chance of staying in the Chase when the play-offs began in September at Chicagoland. He was one of only three drivers to make the cut without having won a race all season - his best finish all season was third place at Kentucky in the summer, which he managed to match this weekend at Martinsville. But it's his growing consistency and ability to stay out of the trouble (and under the radar) that has managed to secure him progression from the Challenger 16 round to the Contender 12 and now into the Eliminator 8.
"It has played to our advantage mathematically, no doubt," agreed Newman of how the new Chase format had suited the Richard Childress Racing team. "We were the 16th seed coming in without a win. We've not won yet. We were tied for the lead in the points with four races to go. So mathematically it has played to my advantage, as others, but probably mine mostly.
"I mean, it's played to our advantage the entire time as far as not having a win, not having bonus points," he added. "Even if you're 8 of 12 or 16, you're still getting caught up, making free points that they're giving you to be tied to the next bracket.
"It's been to our advantage the whole entire time, but that doesn't mean it's going to be from the drop of the green in Texas or from the drop of the green in Homestead," he cautioned.
That said, a win at Texas would not only secure him an automatic place in the final four vying for the 2014 title at the winner-take-all finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16 - it would also silence some of the critics that Newman's success in the play-offs was evidence that the new Chase format wasn't properly rewarding the best drivers, after Jimmie Johnson crashed out of contention last week at Talladega.
"We're going to go to Texas to do what we need to do - that's a lot easier said than done," he admitted. To me, it's just another race. It's an entirely different race than what we had today at Martinsville. Phoenix will be the same. But you have to approach it for what it is. If the outfield wall is a hundred foot closer, you don't have to hit the ball as far. If you have a really good car at Texas, it makes it that much easier."
Newman's not one for making predictions about his championship campaign, preferring instead to continue to surprise and defy expectations when he can. So far it's put him into second place in the points standings which as things stand would be enough to allow him a front row seat for the title decider at Homestead.
However the final cut is a long way off yet, and as Kyle Busch knows all too well from last week there could still be some last minute shocks if Newman's luck finally falters. But for right now, the sun is smiling on Newman in every way that matters.
"Got to thank all the fans for coming out and what a beautiful day here in Martinsville and had a lot of fun," he beamed. "I have to thank everyone at RCR and [engine suppliers] ECR for giving us a good piece to work with.
"Second in points is good, but we still have two more races before we get to Homestead," he noted. "We are digging - and we are going to keep digging."
Sprint Cup Series championship - Chase standings
1. (+6) Jeff Gordon 4044pts
2. (+1) Ryan Newman 4041pts (-3pts)
3. (-2) Joey Logano 4040pts (-4pts)
4. (+1) Matt Kenseth 4039pts (-5pts)
5. (-1) Denny Hamlin 4037pts (-7pts)
6. (--) Carl Edwards 4024pts (-20pts)
7. (+1) Brad Keselowski 4013pts (-31pts)
8. (-6) Kevin Harvick 4011pts (-33pts)
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