Ryan Newman: still waiting (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
If this is a performance-based sport, why doesn't Ryan Newman -- who just added the Brickyard 400 to a resume that includes victory in the Daytona 500 and more than a dozen other Sprint Cup tour wins -- have a ride for 2014, when other less talented drivers are sitting pretty?
Some of this sport's biggest stars over the years probably wouldn't make it in today's NASCAR, with the shape of stock car racing economics as skewed as it is.
How far would hard-scrabble Bobby Isaac have gotten?
Talent just doesn't seem to mean as much as sponsorship dollars....
But Newman's at the peak of his career, just 35, younger than Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth, for example.
And he'll certainly have a ride next season.
Still, the way all this has gone down the past few weeks somehow seems, well, unsettling.
Newman says he's patient. Just winning one of this sport's biggest races "it not like a light switch, where you can just flip it and everything turns on.
"It's up to us to do the same thing we did last weekend and show it's s not just a one-off deal."
Maybe in Sunday's Pocono 400?
"This was the place we got our second top-five of the year in the first race (in June). Felt like we had a car then capable of winning. Ironically it was the same chassis we ran at Indianapolis."
Whether or not any of Newman's current sponsors might follow him to another team isn't clear, he says.
"I don't know....You can talk to somebody, but until the writing is on the paper and the ink is dried, you really don't know.
"But I am in a situation where the phone has not rung off the hook with sponsors, or car owners, or manufacturers or any of that.
"I didn't expect it to...and I think some people expect it to.
"I am working on what I need to work on to be in a good, competitive position next year.
"The win helps, but it's not a light switch. It doesn't turn everything on bright.
"It helps and gives you a vision, but there is more to it than that.
"The $20 million sponsor just doesn't jump right after you. I wish it did; but it doesn't."
Making the playoffs, which begin in Chicago in mid-September, is the next item on Newman's agenda.
Ironically he may be battling owner/teammate Tony Stewart for one of those spots.
The win, Newman says, "gives us more hope.
"We still have a chance of making the chase, whether it's mathematically or winning.
"Another win would be amazing, just based on the history of what I've seen with the wild cards. Two (wins) is pretty much going to lock you into a wild card spot. And we still have a shot.
"I think we're 25 (points) out of 10th (the cutoff), and there's still a lot of racing to go."
Newman's win last weekend, and the aftermath, left him "tired. I really was just tired. And I'm still catching back up.
"We stay really busy at Indy; it's like our 'second' Daytona, as far as media, events, and things like that.
"I had 350 texts when I landed (home last Sunday). Everybody you text responds with something else. It just made for a lot of work.
"I was thankful for it. It was nice to see the people that reached out to congratulate me."
Crew chief Paul Wolfe (L) and Brad Keselowski. Time to get cracking....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Newman isn't the only driver on the hot seat right now. So is Brad Keselowski, the sport's defending champion, whose season hasn't gone all that well.
Keselowski might not make the playoffs. And crew chief Paul Wolfe isn't sure if it's time to change the game plan yet.
"I don’t know that we have to change our strategy a whole lot yet. We just need to have some solid runs.
"If we continue to put ourselves in the top-10 and top-five for the next six weeks then we will surely have the points it takes to get in there.
"Obviously last week was a little bit of a hit for us.
"It was nice to go to New Hampshire after testing there and sit on the pole and have a really strong car with a shot to win and get a top-five out of it.
"We went to Indy and were hoping for a better finish than we got there and there are multiple reasons probably why we didn’t. Some of it was the speed in the car and we had pit road issues and things that need to be addressed. That set us back a little bit.
"Another top-five run here tomorrow could get us back up there so we are just right there on the edge. Obviously we can’t afford to continue to have any 20th or 30th place finishes in the next six races. That would put us in a mode of having to win to get in the Chase.
"I wouldn’t say we are panicked, but we are definitely not where we want to be and we know it is going to be tough.
"It seems like this year there is a group of cars from seventh or eighth all the way to 18th that are closer than I remember in the past.
"Our past two years, it seemed like once we got that first win it feels like you can breathe easier and things kind of just flow. The start of this season it looked like that was going to come pretty quick. We really started so strong and had those top-five finishes and were contending for wins right out of the gate.
"We thought it was going to happen soon. But then we went through that part of the season where we have just been so hit-and-miss, and haven’t been where we need to be.
"It is frustrating. We know we need to get that win."
Keselowski -- and he's not alone in this -- seems almost preoccupied with Jimmie Johnson, who has dominated the season.
Wolfe says he's mentioned that. "Whether or not that is a problem, I don't know.
"The reason you look at them is because the last five or six years they have been the team to beat.
"We definitely have focused on them.
"We were able to beat them fair and square in the chase last year. That definitely gives us confidence.
"We know that is the team we need to beat to be able to win another championship.
"But now we are at a point where we need to get the best we can out of what we have to work with. That is what we are going to do the next six weeks."
Bobby Isaac and crew chief Harry Hyde (Photo: Dodge)