BY ALEX ANDREJEV
THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER/TNS
During an all-hands meeting at Roush Fenway Racing in January, No. 17 driver Chris Buescher hung toward the back of the room while his teammate, Ryan Newman, took center stage. Newman wanted to give an inspiring speech to rally his teammates before the 2020 season kicked off.
“I literally ended (the meeting) and he said, ‘Can I say a few words?’ ” Roush Fenway Racing President Steve Newmark said. “He gave a great analogy about chains linking together and how teams work together and I was thinking, ‘Damn, I wish I had thought of that.’ ”
Monday evening, Newman again took center stage, but this time spectators were gripped by fear rather than inspiration. Newman was involved in a violent crash in the final stretch of the Daytona 500, a race he almost won.
“That’s a tough man right there,” tweeted Chris Buescher, who finished in third Monday. “Still, praying for healing for (Newman) and his family.”
“Ryan and his family have expressed their appreciation for the concern and heartfelt messages from across the country,” the statement said. “They are grateful for the unwavering support of the NASCAR community and beyond.”
Newman was off to his best start to a season in seven years before the wreck. He nearly clinched his second Daytona 500 win and led 15 laps of the race, including sitting in first place after rounding the fourth and final turn before his No. 6 car was hit from behind by Ryan Blaney.
The contact caused Newman’s car to spin to the outside wall before it was hit on the driver’s side by Corey LaJoie. That sent the car into the air, then skidding to a stop upside down and aflame.
Safety crews extracted Newman from the Ford and loaded him into a waiting ambulance, which was done behind a privacy screen. The team announced late Monday that Newman was in serious condition, but doctors said his injuries were non-life threatening.
Newman, 42, finished in third place at last week’s first duel to earn the No. 7 starting position at the Daytona 500 and eight Cup Series points. Those points, combined with the ones he earned from his ninth-place finish at the marquee race, totaled 36 points, the most he has earned through the first week of the season since 2013.
In 2008, Newman won the Daytona 500 for Team Penske, but he has won no more than two races a year (nine total) in the last 16 seasons. Newman joined Roush last season, in which he had 14 top-10 finishes and made the playoffs. In January Newmark said Newman’s 2019 season built the foundation for this year.
“They’re both known for finishing races,” Newmark said of Newman and Buescher. “They might not be flashy or flamboyant, but they’re always there in the mix.”
Inspired by leadership
Indeed, the two drivers finished in the top 10 of the latest “Great American Race’’ in which over half the field did not finish. Newmark said that the team was inspired by Newman’s leadership ability, which has “exceeded his expectations” and helped boost the confidence of Buescher, who joined Roush earlier this year.
“I do believe that we will be able to be very consistent and be able to have good runs along the way and be able to make the play-offs on points,” Buescher said in January. “And I don’t think that’ll be any issue at all with just a little bit of good fortune along the way.”
Good fortune is the only thing RFR can hope for now, as Newman’s health and ability to return to the track remains in question. His leadership, however, is something that will endure within the organization.
“There are times when you gotta step up and stand up, and say what’s on your mind,” Newman said just before the season. “And get the people that are your teammates to follow you so to speak.
“The leaders are the people that make the story.”