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INDIANAPOLIS -- As Ryan Newman knelt to kiss the yard of bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his beautiful wife, Krissie, to his left and his two young, beautiful children in front of them making the perfect snapshot for the All-American family, you couldn't help but wonder.
Behind the smiles and euphoria for a driver from South Bend, Ind., winning Sunday's Brickyard 400, there was uncertainty about the future.
It was only two and a half weeks ago that team owner Tony Stewart phoned his good friend to tell him he wouldn't have a spot for him at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. The decision weighed heavily on Newman. He admitted he had no idea what his future held.
|Indiana native Ryan Newman ended a 49-race winless skid Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.|
You could see the stress in his face from what he called a two-week "roller coaster" of emotion. And that was after his 17th career win on Sunday.
But this has to help.
While there aren't a lot of top rides available outside of a fourth car at Richard Childress Racing if sponsorship can be found -- and that's a long shot -- adding a win at Indianapolis to a résumé that already includes the 2008 Daytona 500 has to strengthen Newman's odds of landing a job.
It may not land Newman a ride of the quality that allowed him to keep points leader Jimmie Johnson from winning a record fifth Brickyard trophy, but Sunday's win has to open eyes.
"It's awesome," said Stewart, who will replace Newman with RCR's Kevin Harvick next season. "It shows [letting him go] wasn't because we don't want him there. There were a lot of factors in it. He can drive, I can tell you that. I've never thought any different.
"This will help him win a ride."
Making the Chase wouldn't hurt, either, and this increased Newman's odds. The win moved him to 16th in the standings, 20 points behind Martin Truex Jr. and 24 behind Stewart -- each with a victory -- for one of the two wild-card spots given to drivers from 11th to 20th based on wins and their place in the standings.
He's only 25 points behind Jeff Gordon for the 10th and final spot guaranteed a position in NASCAR's 10-race playoff with six races left in the regular season.
That, and the job situation, will iron itself out.
This was a day to enjoy the moment.
"He'll get a good ride," said Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, whose engine propelled Newman to the victory. "He's a good driver. It shows what he can do. It's a tough track. I know this means a lot to him and his family."
More than you can imagine.
You could see the temporary relief from the uncertainty on the faces of Newman and his wife as they carried their children from Victory Lane.
You could feel the emotional lift.
Asked about it in the postrace news conference, he deadpanned, "Ogres don't have emotions, you know that."
He was making light of Kyle Busch calling him an ogre for the way he drove at New Hampshire.
At least he's kept his wry sense of humor through the tough times. But the times have been tough, even though Newman covers much of his stress with jokes.
"All we've been through this year and how much this race means to him being an Indiana boy, I couldn't imagine a better ending to the week he's had," Krissie said. "There's always pressure on him, and everything with this situation it's definitely more so, but he's handled it well.
"These guys, they don't quit."
Newman started from the pole and led the first 29 laps before Johnson began his domination. What looked like a second- or third-place day changed with 26 laps remaining when Newman pitted for two tires.
Johnson, who made his final stop a lap earlier, took four.
That turned a two-second lead for Johnson into a seven-second deficit as they waited for the rest of the field to cycle through on stops.
Newman won by about three seconds.
He's not sure what it will mean to his future or that of crew chief and longtime friend Matt Borland. But he knows the moment is an "amazing feeling."
... After what happened at Loudon [N.H.], I told you yesterday we were waiting for a special time to make all this stuff happen. Like the perfect storm. I got fired a couple of weeks ago, come back here, win the pole, win the race." -- Ryan Newman
It's sometimes hard for those in the stands or watching on television to understand highly paid athletes such as Newman are under the same stress to support their family as they are. It's hard to understand that their worries aren't much different than the banker or machine operator who lost a job.
But Newman didn't always have a huge bank account and he wasn't always a Sprint Cup star, as he has been since winning eight races and 11 poles in 2003, his second season after beating soon to be five-time champion Johnson for rookie of the year.
There was a time when he slept in the former race shop of four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon in nearby Pittsboro, Ind., working on cars with only the dream to race them at IMS.
Two weeks ago, the dreams became troubled as Newman's future suddenly was in doubt.
Again, Sunday has to help.
The driver who doesn't often show emotion unless it's bashing the racing at Talladega Superspeedway was back to his playful and sarcastic self. Asked if his team has rallied behind him, he quipped, "No, we're just a bunch of quitters."
"Hell yeah they've rallied behind me," Newman said. "After what happened at Loudon [N.H.], I told you yesterday we were waiting for a special time to make all this stuff happen. Like the perfect storm. I got fired a couple of weeks ago, come back here, win the pole, win the race."
It was the perfect storybook win to make three hours of boredom -- one on-track pass for the lead will do that -- seem not so bad.
But after it was over, amidst the joy Newman and his family and team felt, you still couldn't help but wonder.
"Yeah, makes it better for something for 2014," Newman said. "Not only for me, but Matt. We'll get through all that, but today we are celebrating a victory."