Newman Crowned Raybestos Rookie
by Pete McCole

November 19, 2002

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Ryan Newman meets the press after being named the Raybestos Rookie Of The Year for 2002.
Photo: Pete McCole

Taking his place among such drivers as Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart,Ryan Newman joined an elite group as he was officially crowned the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Raybestos Rookie of the Year Tuesday at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Newman, driver of the #12 ALLTEL Ford out of the stable of Roger Penske, had a record-setting year, with his six poles and 22 top-10’s besting all previous rookies. Newman also notched 14 top-5’s as well as one victory last September at Louden. Newman also became only the second rookie to win The Winston All-Star race.

“It’s an honor to be Raybestos Rookie of the Year,” Newman said, “There’s nothing else I’d rather be, rookie-wise, than Winston Cup Rookie of the Year. It was a great year with the finishes we had, the performances we had - on and off the race track.

I think everything went really well this year, hopefully we can have another great season in 2003.”

Newman faced a season-long battle with fellow rookie Jimmie Johnson in a close battle for the rookie title. The two drivers also found themselves in serious contention for the Winston Cup title in the last quarter of the season, becoming the first Rookie of the Year contenders to win back-to-back races, with Johnson winning a Dover the week before Newman’s triumph at Louden. Johnson finished the year with three victories.

“The competition between me and Jimmie was good, and next year, with Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray coming in, that’s going to be another tough rookie battle.” Newman said, “Hopefully they won’t beat our records, but it’s something that’s good for NASCAR in the long run.”

Although he finished seven points behind Johnson in the championship points standings, he managed to finish 23 points ahead of Johnson for the rookie title, which only takes into account the 17 best finishes a driver has, as well as bonus points for poles, where they finish in a race in relation to other rookies in the field, and top 10 finishes.

As with all rookie seasons, Newman’s season was a learning experience, both good and bad.

Newman won six poles this year, more than any other driver, and a rookie record.
Photo: Pete McCole

“The biggest thing I learned was experience – on and off the track,” said Newman. “Dealing with people, fans, knowing what to expect and how to managing the time to do it all. Learning patience, understanding the race cars, the race tacks, running 500 mile races, learning what to expect at the events.

A couldn’t say one thing really surprised me. I realized after the start of the year that we had great potential to do well all year. Our performance on the road courses really surprised me. Having 14 top-5’s and only one win is a little disappointing, but hopefully it’ something need to look at next year and try to improve on.”

Johnson and Newman both benefited from driving championship-caliber teams with top-of-the-line equipment – Newman with Penske Racing South and Johnson with Hendrick Motorsports, giving Newman the benefit of sharing information with teammate Rusty Wallace.

“Anytime to can compare information, team-wise, you can create a better package.” Newman said, “We planned our testing schedule so we can make the best possibilities for gaining experience.”

Having run in the top 20 in the Winston Cup points standings for much of the season, Newman is confident the ALLTEL team can make a run for the championship in 2003.

“I think we’re plenty capable of winning a championship,” said Newman. “I feel being the rookie of the year is a team award, it’s not just a driver award. We could have done things a lot better, but a championship is something we are certainly capable of.”

Newman’s stats speak for themselves.

Newman won six poles this season, more than any other driver, and established a new record for a Raybestos® Rookie in Winston Cup racing.  The previous mark was Davey Allison's record of five in 1987.  Newman started in the top-10 25 times this season.  Ten of the 31 pole awards in 2002 were won by a Raybestos® Rookie.  Newman was the highest qualifying Raybestos® Rookie in 10 of the last 12 races where time trials were held (Brickyard 400 through Ford 400).  Newman has been highest qualifying Raybestos® Rookie 19 times in 2002.

Newman's 22nd top-10 establishes a new record for top-10 finishes in a single season by a Raybestos® Rookie.  The previous record was Tony Stewart's record of 21 set in 1999.

His 22 top-10 finishes tied him with Mark Martin for most top-10 finishes this season.  Newman officially won Raybestos® Rookie of the Year by 23 points (344-321) over Jimmie Johnson.

The author can be contacted nascar@autoracing1.com

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