Splitter to Spoiler: Newmans triumph changes dynamic for Richard Childress Racing

Phoenix race proves Richard Childress Racing is ready to contend again, but Chevrolets brightest star resides with Chip Ganassi Racing

Jasen Vinlove—X02835
Feb 24

Ryan Newman looked like he was going to keel over in Victory Lane on Sunday. On an afternoon that peaked at 95 degrees in Phoenix, Newman said he was exhausted from the blistering heat around Lap 150.Then the race went into overtime. But with four old tires, Newman took the lead and held off Kyle Larson, on two new tires, to win his first race in nearly four years. Newman celebrated with ice being poured down his back and being practically held up as he posed for the “hat dance” with the sponsors lids.He wouldn’t have it any other way.”It’s sweet for so many reasons,” Newman said. “I said that when I won the Brickyard. I said that when I won at Daytona. This has been the longest drought I’ve ever been in. Even in Phoenix, the runners up suck. It’s just a hard‑fought race, a hard‑fought battle, a hard‑fought four years.”While the win snapped a losing streak for Newman, it also snapped a 127-race winless streak for Richard Childress Racing. Once a juggernaut in the sport, RCR has been passed over in recent years by several teams and only put one driver — Austin Dillon — in the playoffs last season.Dillon and Paul Menard are struggling this season, but RCR already has assurance that at least one car will make the playoffs. Expect the focus to shift to the No. 3 and No. 27 teams to ensure all three cars are racing for a championship when October rolls around.Already having Newman in the postseason, however, gives Childress optimism about a late run.”Yeah, I think it will,” Childress said about the win helping to turn a corner. “We’re making gains. I think this package, a lot of things the guys are doing, this package fits Ryan perfect.”Larson tops standings for first time in his careerAt some point, every young gun has to jump to the next level of their career in NASCAR. For some, like Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, the wins came during their rookie seasons. For others, that transition takes place years down the road.Larson is finally transforming into a star in 2017, three years removed from his rookie season.After showing so much promise in his first season — particularly in the Chase — Larson fell off in his second year. He notched a win in 2016 along with 10 top fives, but there was still so much left to be desired with the 24-year-old driver.He’s unleashing all that talent early on this year. If not for running out of gas in the lead on Lap 199 of 200 in the Daytona 500, Larson would have captured the Great American Race. Instead of a letdown after that disastrous finish, Larson has rattled off three consecutive second-place results.That win hasn’t come yet, but Larson now leads the points standings by six points over Brad Keselowski. Despite coming up short in all four races, Larson remains optimistic heading into Fontana next week.”It’s been a lot of fun to start this year,” Larson said. “I just hope we can continue to work hard, be consistent, be mistake‑free on pit road and on the racetrack. If we can just keep doing that, the wins are going to come. I could easily have four wins right now. Just got to keep working hard.”Heading into Fontana, Larson has a chance to not only keep the points lead, but also clinch a spot in the playoffs. With a win in the Xfinity Series in California and a second-place result as a rookie, Auto Club Speedway could be the race where Larson truly proves he’s a force to be reckoned with in the top series.Rookie of the Year race heating up … finallySpeaking of young stars making their mark, Sunday was a superb afternoon for Toyota’s rookie duo. Both Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones notched their first top 10s by finishing seventh and eighth, respectively, after fighting to stay up near the front.For Suarez, the results have slowly seen an uptick after taking over for Carl Edwards in the offseason. Suarez wrecked in the Daytona 500 to finish 29th before taking a 21st and 20th result in Atlanta and Las Vegas.What seemed to work for Suarez in Phoenix was getting some experience at the track before he arrived. While he’s had some experience with nearly every other track, getting track time at Phoenix with Edwards was clearly a confidence boost for the rookie.As for Jones, the start at Daytona was equally as bad with a wreck and 39th-place result. But a pair of top-15 finishes for Jones along with his Phoenix race has Jones on the bubble for NASCAR’s playoffs at 18th in the standings and atop the Rookie of the Year list.Could this be the start of a fun year for two of the sport’s brightest young stars? With both teams sharing the same engine maker in the TRD garage, the battle could get intense this season like it did last year between Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney.