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As is the case in other sports, it's rare that a race car driver gets a formal and ballyhooed send-off when the end of their careers come. Most racers simply fade away like old soldiers, receding into the background and getting behind the wheel of whatever they can until either the phone stops ringing or they buy a boat and call it a career.

That may be how the latter portion of Ryan Newman's racing career plays out: After 20 full seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series, Newman will hit free agency after Sunday's season finale at Phoenix Raceway, and he currently does not have a ride for 2022. As he gets set to turn 44 next month, Newman is not actively looking to stop racing in NASCAR or stop racing altogether, but acknowledged that his prospects for next season seem slim.

"I hope not. I don't know, but I hope not," Newman said when asked if Sunday would be his last Cup race. "... I'm not announcing any kind of retirement or anything like that. I really just, I don't have anything on paper for next year right now."

Unfortunately for Newman, he doesn't enter the free agent pool from a position of strength, as the optics of his season suggests he's an aging veteran in decline: He has scored only two Top 5 and five Top 10 finishes this season, has led a career-low four laps, and enters Sunday's finale a career-low 28th in the standings. In addition, Newman has not won a race since 2017.

According to Jeff Gluck of The Athletic, Newman stated that he wants his next opportunity -- whether it be in NASCAR, USAC, or elsewhere -- to be in a car capable of winning races. Interestingly, he expressed reservations about racing NASCAR's Next Gen car due to concerns about its safety, believing it to be stiffer than the current Cup car and knowing the new Goodyear tires developed for the car do not feature an inner-liner.

Newman has long been an outspoken driver safety advocate, a stance strengthened by his surviving a horrific accident at the finish of the 2020 Daytona 500.

"I don't, after having a career of 20-plus years, want to go to a racetrack knowing I have a 9- and 10-year-old daughter and answer to myself that I jumped into a car just for the fun of it that wasn't safe," Newman said. "... The car was crash-tested; never saw the first thing about it. If it's good, you show people, right? It's like a report card. You get A's? You go show people. You get C's, D's or F's? You just hope the dog ate it or it never came in the mailbox, right? That's where we're at."

Newman's reservations are likely based in rumors that spread during the summer about the Next Gen car's safety, when the "failure" of a crash test at Talladega due to a sled malfunction turned into ominous hearsay about the "death" of the crash test dummy. NASCAR has since repeatedly met with drivers to reassure them about the car's safety, something NASCAR President Steve Phelps alluded to on Friday.

If Sunday does end up being Newman's last Cup Series start, it being at Phoenix is somewhat poetic -- Newman made his Cup debut at Phoenix in 2000, and his most recent of his 18 career wins came there in the spring of 2017.

While Newman vacates Roush Fenway Racing's No. 6 to make room for Brad Keselowski, the door may not be closed for him on a return to the team in some capacity next season. When Keselowski's move to Roush Fenway was announced in the summer, team president Steve Newmark told reporters that the organization had spoken to Newman about a part-time ride.