Driver Ryan Newman waits in his race car in the garage during practice Friday at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo)
LONG POND, Pa. — Ryan Newman kissed the Indy bricks, then had to deal with the Brickyard 350.
That's the estimated number of text messages he received from well-wishers for his win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend.
Friends, family. Just about anyone who helped Newman on his path from the short tracks that dot Indiana to taking the checkered flag in one of the sport's most prestigious races.
"The coolest part was that there were eight people, maybe, where I had to text them back and ask who it was," Newman said, laughing.
But no team dialed up Newman and offered a ride for 2014.
No sponsor texted and said it would invest $20 million or so to follow him wherever he lands.
Newman's future is no more settled entering Sunday's race at Pocono Raceway than it was before he snapped a 49-race winless streak. If any team's in the market for a Brickyard winner, Newman is listening.
"The phone has not rung off the hook," Newman said. "I didn't expect it to and I think some people kind of 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."
For now, Newman is out of work following this season. Stewart-Haas Racing signed Kevin Harvick to join the team next season, and team co-owner Tony Stewart informed Newman two weeks ago he won't be brought back in 2014.
Stewart couldn't afford a fourth car (Stewart-Harvick-Danica Patrick) so Newman had to go.
He wants to leave a winner — more like, a Sprint Cup champion.
Newman is far from a title contender, but he at least forced his name into the conversation for a Chase for the Sprint Cup championship spot. He's 16th in the standings but the victory put him in position to earn one of the two wild-card spots that go to drivers in the 11th to 20th spots. Stewart (11th) and Martin Truex Jr. (12th) hold those spots with six races left before the 12-driver field is set.
Newman would be a sure thing with another win.
"It gives us more hope. I mean we had hope in the first place," Newman said. "We still have a chance of making the Chase. Another win would be amazing just based on the history of what I've seen with the wild cards. Two is pretty much going to lock you into a wild card spot. And we still have a shot."
Newman won a staggering eight times in 2003 but has just eight wins since that season. He's won one race each of the last four seasons. That should make him an attractive candidate to a program like Richard Childress Racing or perhaps Furniture Row Racing should Kurt Busch leave.
Newman didn't know if primary sponsors Quicken Loans and Outback Steakhouse will follow him to a new ride or stay with SHR.
Some of Newman's toughest tracks are ahead as he makes his Chase push. He has one win at Pocono, is winless at Watkins Glen, has two wins at Michigan, hasn't won at Bristol or Atlanta and has one win at Martinsville.
"When you win once, you should be able to keep winning if you have the tools to do it," Newman said. "It's a challenge this weekend because I have never won at Indy. Indy and Pocono are so close (in setup). I see it as a challenge."
Newman could be helped if Stewart were to pass winless Jeff Gordon for 10th and then claim a wild-card spot that way. Yes one win helps, but Newman, Truex and Stewart all know it might not be enough to make the Chase.
"We definitely got some places where we could run well," Truex said. "Bristol has been good for us so I think we just need to get through this one. I feel like we can get another win before the Chase starts and we're going to work hard to try to make that happen."
Stewart, who walked away unhurt from a sprint car accident this week, said his No. 14 is a championship contender with more room to grow. The three-time Cup champion is always one of the cars to beat if he cracks the Chase field.
"If we get our cars working like we want them to, the points will take care of itself," Stewart said. "I don't think we are looking at it in any type of panic situation. We are still just trying to figure out how to make our cars better."
With two top 10s in the last three races, Newman and crew chief Matt Borland hope they've figured out the No. 39.
Plus, history could be on Newman's side. Stewart made the decision to fire crew chief Darian Grubb during the 2011 season — then went out and won the championship. Maybe another pink slip can spark Newman into contention.
"You're still going to have the negative in there," Newman said, "It's how you overcome those things that make you a winner."
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