7:12 PM EDT, August 31, 2013
HAMPTON, Ga. — Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman are crossing paths on the track, an inadvertent crash dictated by the business of stock-car racing.
Busch moves ahead with purpose. He has a plan and a cozy future. Newman is stuck in neutral, not knowing a thing about his next move.
There is always collateral damage in sports. Somebody is always better.
Both Busch and Kevin Harvick are better than Newman. The Stewart-Haas Racing Empire said as much by not extending Newman's contract for 2014, instead opting to plug in Harvick, Tony Stewart's buddy, as the third driver at SHR.
Trying to carry four drivers did not make fiscal sense. That seemed like a plausible excuse until an aggressive push by co-owner Gene Haas snagged former Cup champion Busch this past week and signed him to a multi-year deal.
So now there are four: Stewart, Busch, Harvick and Danica Patrick.
Newman will play out the season with Stewart-Haas Racing, but it's a lot more complicated than just biding his time until 2014. He remains in the scramble to qualify for the Chase, in 15th place, with two races to go before the 12-driver field is set.
Newman will start 17th Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the quintessential Nowhere Man spinning his wheels.
"I wouldn't say it's difficult," he said Friday afternoon. "I would say it's more of a challenge because you have to, as you said, compartmentalize and stay focused at different times on different subjects.
"All that being said, it takes away from your relaxing time in your mind, which is just as important as being focused on what you need to be at a given time, be it 2013 or 2014."
Newman, who has 17 Cup victories, may land with Richard Childress Racing if it can field a fourth team. Or maybe Furniture Row Racing, where Busch is currently putting on an impressive one-man show.
Busch is 12th in points and trying to secure a berth in the Chase with a group of overachievers. Furniture Row and Busch are matching the speed and power of Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Racing and other multi-driver teams.
"It's tough to have the present to work on and try to get Furniture Row in the Chase and then the future with Stewart-Haas Racing," Busch said Friday. "It's tough to balance it all, but it was nice to do the announcement Tuesday. It's exciting to have the future set where 2014 and beyond will go, but at the same time you know it gives you a breath of fresh air coming to the track to kick-butt these next two weeks with the Furniture Row guys. I think the most important two races in the No. 78 cars history are these next two."
The dynamics between the two drivers proves that NASCAR, just like any other sport, is driven by star power.
Busch is a former Cup champion with significant anger-management issues. That's why he's been bounced from the super-team power grid the last two years. But he's made enough progress keeping his mouth in check to be given another shot at the big-time.
Newman has no such issues but hasn't stepped his game up to become an elite driver. He's won just one race in each of the last four seasons. His best finish in the last seven years has been ninth in 2009.
The gang at Stewart-Haas Racing made a smart move, a calculated upgrade, on a guy nicknamed "Outlaw."
Star-power wins. Again.
"This is a tough game," Busch said earlier in the week during a teleconference. "It was on my résumé when I first started out racing to be in the top 1 percent of any racing division that I got into. When I achieved success at an early age, I was in that top 1 percent. I began to abuse that, and I wasn't in the right situation to be at the top anymore.
"When you fall away from the focus on what got you to your first goal, the ultimate goal — which was to raise up a Sprint Cup trophy — you don't want to throw away the God-given talent you've been given."
Kurt Busch has picked himself up from the trash heap again. There will be collateral damage. Ryan Newman knows this all too well.
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