Ryan Newman has come a long way since he and his boss Tony Stewart wrecked during practice for this year's Daytona 500.
Fortunately, unlucky beginnings don't always mean unhappy endings. And Newman ended his season with a ninth-place spot in the points standings - his best ranking since 2005. All in all, The Rocket Man snagged five top-five finishes and 15 top tens - and he did it with the backing of Tony Stewart's fledgling Stewart-Haas Racing team.
But what will likely live forever as Newman's most memorable moment of 2009 won't be his pre-season tangle with Tony or his respectable top 10 points standing. It will be his infamous wreck at Talladega, which caused the fans in the stands and those watching at home to hold their collective breaths and pray that he'd walk away from that U.S. Army car in one piece.
When Newman went airborne during the Nov. 1 race, I and the rest of the fans in attendance experienced a few anxious minutes as we wondered if he was OK. Newman hung upside down for what seemed like forever and then, finally, emergency officals cut him out of his race car and freed the driver from his harrowing position.
After his release from the infield care center, a shaken Newman railed at NASCAR and suggested they take advantage of his engineering degree to help make cars and drivers safer at superspeedways like Dega. The powers-that-be took Ryan up on his offer, and met with the Purdue University grad the very next week.
We'll see in a little more than 50 days if Newman's engineering suggestions were taken under advisement. Let's hope NASCAR listened.