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Ryan Newman, Matt Borland show old magic

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Aug. 01, 2013

Name a very successful driver-crew chief combination in the Sprint Cup Series with a reputation for drawing controversy and the watchful eye of NASCAR inspectors.

The popular and easy pick would be Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus.

But before Johnson and Knaus won the first of their five championships together, another driver-crew chief combination was raising eyebrows and appeared headed in that same direction: Ryan Newman and Matt Borland.

Their relationship has gone there and back again and Newman’s win Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway appears to have rekindled some of the magic the two enjoyed almost 10 years ago.

“Those guys are and have been the benchmark for a long time,” Newman said of the Johnson-Knaus combination. “They’ve been beat before by other teams, but we were the last duo to give them a good run for their money on a regular basis.

“I’m not saying just because we won (at Indy) we’re going to do it again next week, but that’s our goal. We’re there to beat everybody, but it just so happens that they’re usually the team you have to beat to do that.”

It always wasn’t that way.

Borland and Newman began working together virtually from Day 1 of Newman’s arrival Penske Racing during 2000.

In fact, the duo showed signs of speed almost immediately, as Newman won the pole for the 2001 Coca-Cola 600 when he was running a partial Cup schedule.

Newman won a race and six poles during his rookie season in Cup in 2002 and he won a career-high eight races the next year.

It was during a stretch late in 2003 when Newman and Borland won three of five races that the pair began to draw scrutiny from competitors for their ability to stretch their gas mileage.

The “they can’t win that much without cheating” has become a common mantra in NASCAR – particularly among fans – when anyone begins racking up a lot of wins.

The tag fell on Jeff Gordon and his previous crew chief, Ray Evernham, as well as Johnson and Knaus.

Unlike Johnson and Knaus, Newman and Borland couldn’t sustain that level of success. Newman won twice in 2004, once in 2005 and none in 2006 before Borland stepped aside.

Then Newman and Borland met up again at Stewart-Haas Racing. Borland was vice president of competition when Newman arrived as a driver in 2009.

When Newman’s crew chief, Tony Gibson, and other crew members were moved to Danica Patrick’s team after last season, Borland agreed to return as crew chief for Newman’s final season at SHR.

After a slow start this year, they have returned to Victory Lane together for the first time since 2005 and remain in the hunt for a series championship.

“Chad and Jimmie, I mean, they’ve dominated this sport for the last 10 years,” Borland said after Sunday’s win. “If you’re going to win races and win championships, you have to go toe to toe with them.

Sunday “was a great day, but we got a lot of work to do.”

With Newman departing SHR at season’s end, Borland was asked if there was a possibility he could remain with Newman after he leaves.

Borland was noncommittal.

“At this point I’m not sure what next year is going to bring,” he said. “Right now, 100 percent of my focus and our whole team’s focus is on doing as best we can in these next six races and the next 16.”

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