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NASCAR mailbag: Did Ryan Newman saying Tony Stewart has ‘anger issues’ go too far?

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Assessing Ryan Newman’s remarks on Tony Stewart’s behavior, how Stewart responded to Newman, Danica Patrick and the Chase field.

Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500- Qualifying Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Each week SB Nation’s NASCAR reporter Jordan Bianchi answers your questions about the latest news and happenings within the sport. If you have a mailbag question email jordanmbianchi@gmail.com.

Who does Ryan Newman think he is? No driver is harder to pass than him, as he just blocks everyone lap after lap. Yet, he thinks it’s OK to shove his way around but when someone does it to him, he causes a crash and then makes totally inappropriate remarks like he’s the victim. Do you think NASCAR will punish him for his slanderous words?

--Will

Newman’s comments certainly toed the line between being rightfully upset with someone over an on-track incident and making it personal. Had he just stopped with what transpired throughout the night with Stewart and not referenced the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy, no one would’ve thought much of it -- just another upset driver following a typical accident on a short track.

However, by bringing up Stewart’s past transgressions -- and there are many -- Newman went too far. There was no need. Especially when you factor how many times Newman ran into Stewart prior to their final encounter, and Newman once deliberately body-slammed Kyle Larson during a race two years ago to avoid playoff elimination.

By Newman’s logic, it’s acceptable for him to be aggressive, yet any belligerent acts exhibited by Stewart is an indicator of a deeper problem. That’s a double-standard.

But before chastising Newman, let’s take into account what preceded his remarks. Earlier in the week the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team were assessed a ticky-tack 15-point penalty, flipping Newman’s playoff hopes from doable (he was seven points behind Jamie McMurray for the last transfer spot) to a position where he now needed to win at Richmond.

That pressure, accompanied with a car he didn’t like, had Newman bickering with crew chief Luke Lambert throughout the night. And when trying circumstances combine with frustration and an unceremonious end to your championship hopes, well, you get a driver who’s going to say whatever he wants, regardless of how it comes across.

Why did Tony Stewart take the high road in responding to Crying Ryan’s uncalled for remarks? That’s not the Smoke I know and love. If this had been a five years ago Tony would’ve fired back and put Ryan in his place with some kind of creative putdown. I miss that Tony.

--Jon

Sometimes there is little to be gained by responding, and Saturday was one of those instances. Had Stewart said anything piercing, it would’ve only added further attention to a story he was best to disassociate himself with.

From a public relations perspective, Stewart handled the situation admirably when the opportunity was there to blast Newman in return. That said, Stewart may not have been entirely aware of what Newman said, and had he known, he may have answered differently. For now, though, let’s give Stewart the benefit of the doubt and assume he was being mature about the whole thing.

At first I wasn’t sure about NASCAR adding eliminations to the Chase, but I think it’s worked out well and added some drama to the end of the season. Plus, I like the fact that the last race of the year is a winner-take-all. Make the drivers earn it, I say. But what I don’t like is they expanded the field. Sixteen drivers are too much. When you have guys like Chris Buescher racing for a championship it shows that making the Chase isn’t all that special any more.

--Kevin

Any time the number of participants is expanded, there is a risk of diminishing the significance of earning a playoff berth. That’s applicable across all sports. And sure, it’s better to have a playoff field stacked with good teams than a field comprised of guys who haven’t displayed an adequate level of competitiveness.

But as written in this space before, the percentage of drivers making the Chase is inline when compared to other sports. Thirty-four drivers have attempted every race this season (including Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who only missed events due to injury), meaning 47 percent are now competing for the championship over the final 10 weeks. That’s less than in the NBA and NHL, where 53 percent of teams qualify, and only marginally higher than Major League Baseball (33 percent) and the NFL (37.5 percent).

As for whether Buescher is deserving, it depends upon your definition. A good case could be made he’s more worthy than McMurray, who not only didn’t win a race but failed to lead a single lap this season.

Although Buescher’s victory came in a weather-shortened race, he still needed to execute and it’s not as if every team didn’t have the same opportunity to take advantage of the circumstances. He and the No. 34 team did. Thus, they reaped the benefits.

How telling is it that Danica Patrick was the only Stewart-Haas Racing driver not to make the Chase?

--Mark

When you’re struggling and your teammates are enjoying success, it certainly casts you in a bad light. No different than Kasey Kahne going winless and not qualifying for the Chase a year ago, while Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon each visited victory lane and punched playoff tickets.

What makes Patrick’s situation different is she doesn’t have a record of previous success like Kahne, a 17-time race winner, to indicate she’s capable of being consistently competitive. Looking at Patrick’s résumé it remains spotty, compounded by the fact she’s seemingly plateaued -- zero finishes better than 13th this season -- and has yet to break through despite gaining additional experience.

But as everyone knows, a driver’s employability is often based on more than solely winning and losing. Patrick is still a marketable personality, and in a time where sponsorship dollars aren’t always easy to secure -- for example, Stewart had a handful of races in 2016 where the primary sponsorship on his car went unsold -- that’s a viable asset to SHR overall. Now, if Patrick were unable to bring in the sponsorship dollars like she does, then her job security might be more in question.