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Opinion: New and Improved

Progress was made by a number of drivers in the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season putting better results on the board than the previous season. But one name stood out the most and it caught many by surprise.

Ryan Newman.

It was more than likely a small group who thought Newman had a chance to make the playoffs in his first season at Roush Fenway Racing. The veteran decided to make the move from Richard Childress Racing, where he had struggled through a pair of mediocre at best seasons and take over a ride that had done pretty much the same.

The Roush No. 6 entry Newman inherited was also going through its challenges the year before when Trevor Bayne and Matt Kenseth, called out of retirement, did their best to get the ride back in the right direction. So it was somewhat surprising and considered more a lateral move by many when Newman decided to transition to Roush.

All Newman did is make the playoff field in his usual manner of consistent finishes and being around to challenge when the checkered flag drew near. He put three top fives and 14 top-10 finishes on the board and although was eliminated early in the postseason gauntlet proved both he and Roush were still capable of solid performances.

“I’m proud of the guys,” Newman said after finishing seventh in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “We made a lot of progress this year. It is a good way to end the season and prove that we were a top-10 car there at the end. We didn’t end up there in points, but just proud of the overall team effort for sure.”

The 2020 season will have a number of candidates to follow in Newman’s footsteps. Again a driver making a change in teams has the same potential Newman enjoyed and that’s Matt DiBenedetto.

DiBenedetto turned a lot of heads this past season driving the Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Toyota. The attention meter was completely pegged in August when DiBenedetto came within just a handful of laps of winning at Bristol Motor Speedway.

DiBenedetto knew he would not return to the LFR ride with the team bringing over Christopher Bell from the Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series program and his future was fuzzy at best. Until the Wood Brothers came calling looking to replace Paul Menard, who announced he would retire at season’s end. DiBenedetto steps into the iconic No. 21 Ford that Menard drove to a 19th-place finish in the point standings and four top-10 finishes.

The team remains affiliated with Team Penske and DiBenedetto is optimistic he can put even better numbers in the books next season.

“I am so excited about this opportunity to race for one of the most successful teams in NASCAR history beginning in 2020,” said DiBenedetto. “The No. 21 Ford is one of the most accomplished and iconic cars in our sport and it will be an honor to join Wood Brothers Racing and help carry on the team’s tradition of success in NASCAR.”

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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