Hoping To 'Filter' Out Team's Bad Racing Luck at Daytona
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Feb. 8, 2011) - To say that restrictor-plate racing has been the Achilles' heel for Ryan Newman and his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team is without a doubt an understatement.
For Newman, it's been an ongoing series of "wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time" incidents at both superspeedways on the circuit since joining SHR in 2009. In fact, over the past two seasons, the South Bend, Ind., native and his No. 39 Chevrolet have become the poster child for rotten luck and hard crashes at the high-speed racetracks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
It's just bad racing luck, Newman says. Good thing for Newman and his No. 39 team that luck can change.
As Newman & Co., prepares for its third go-round at Daytona Speedweeks, there is confidence that this year's February outing to the famed "World Center of Racing" will be the charm.
So it seems somewhat appropriate that the team kicks off Speedweeks with WIX Filters on board the No. 39 Chevrolet Impala as the primary sponsor for Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout. The team will definitely appreciate the help from WIX as it works to "filter" out all the bad luck it has endured at Daytona and turn its racing luck around.
Of course, Daytona hasn't been all bad for Newman during his first nine years in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In fact, Newman has tasted victory at Daytona and celebrated in the sport's most famous victory lane on three different occasions.
Before joining the full-time ranks of the Cup Series, Newman earned his first win at Daytona in the ARCA Series in 2001. In his first-ever outing at the high-banked superspeedway, Newman started 11th and led the final 12 laps of the 80-lap event to win by more than two-tenths of a second.
Three years later, in 2004, Newman scored his only IROC Series victory at Daytona.
And then three years ago, in 2008, Newman celebrated the greatest moment of his racing career at the historic 2.5-mile oval. On that February evening, Newman achieved a lifelong dream when he stole the lead on the backstretch on the final lap of the season-opening race. He never looked back, winning the 50th Running of the Daytona 500.
It is that victory that earned Newman his berth in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout.
There's no doubt Newman knows what it takes to win at Daytona. But, as Newman says, the driver and the team only control a very small part of what the outcome will be at the 2.5-mile layout. A lot of what it takes to win at Daytona is pure racing luck, and Newman and his No. 39 WIX Filters team just need a little help to "filter" out all that bad luck to make room for the good.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Your team has endured a lot of bad luck at Daytona since you joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. How important is it for you to turn that luck around and start off this year on a high note?
"There's a lot of emphasis on Speedweeks. Everybody brings their A-game. Everybody wants to get off to a good start but, ultimately, you control only a part of it and racing luck controls the other part of it. And Daytona is a tough place. It always has been. And, honestly, I think our last two years have been bad luck in the way our season has started. Last year, starting the season, we got involved in a wreck. And, the year before, we got involved in multiple wrecks before the 500 ever started and we were on our third racecar by the time we took the green flag for the 500. Both years, we have had to dig ourselves out of that hole. Two years ago, we did that. This past year, we didn't. We won in Phoenix but did not put ourselves in the Chase. You never know what's going to happen. That's why we all enjoy NASCAR Sprint Cup racing and, hopefully, it's a good start to the season for us this year."
Everyone is always optimistic heading into a new season. What is your level of optimism going into Daytona?
"If you look back at our last two races of 2010, we have a lot to be excited about. I would probably even go back further than that. If you look back to Bristol in August, I think our team was really coming on strong. We had some really good runs and some really good finishes, I think, with the exception of a mistake I made early in the race at Charlotte and losing our rear gear at Martinsville, we would have been a top-five car in each one of those last 10 races. I think we have momentum on our side going into 2011, so I look forward to it. It's the strongest end to a season I've had in a long time and I think that carries over into the start of the next."
Talk about Daytona's new surface and all the changes we're going to see when the teams get to Daytona. Does that make the Budweiser Shootout an even more important race for you and your team?
"I think it will be the biggest potential change of events at Daytona that we've ever had with the asphalt and new nose, the restrictor plate being as small as it is, the fuel cans and the lack of that extra man coming over to be the catch can man. I think there are a lot of things that have changed up in reference to the tires. If you look at what we are going to go through at Daytona, it might be two sets of tires. The things we typically did we don't necessarily have to do, so the emphasis gets put on other areas to be better or faster.
"The new Daytona is definitely going to change the racing. It's going to change the way we race. It's going to change a lot of things in respect to the Daytona 500 but, in the end, there's still going to be a victor and we're still going to see a lot of drama and unexpected things happening, just like any other time in NASCAR. To me, just that extra grip and the way we draft is going to make it more like Talladega, but it's still not going to be Talladega. It's going to be Daytona.
"And the whole fuel can situation is going to be very critical this year with the way that can inserts and needs to be pulled out. So there's emphasis this year, specifically, at Daytona and throughout the season, in areas we have not had to worry about or have not had to work on, so those are going to be the things I think can make a difference. You could see something unexpected happen.
"We tested down there, but we never got more than two or three drafting in a pack, so I think being part of the Budweiser Shootout is going to be a really big deal. Not just to see how the cars react in the draft, but also to see what happens on pit road with the new fuel can. The Shootout will be the first live action for the pit crews and, while I know they've been practicing with this for quite some time, now, I think they will learn a lot in the Shootout. There are still a lot of unknowns for the teams, so being part of the Budweiser Shootout is a big deal and it potentially will give us an idea of maybe what we can expect in the Duels and then again for the Daytona 500, both on the track and in the pits. To be honest, everybody talks about how excited they are to kick off the season and get to Daytona but, to me, I think everyone is anxious. We want to see how all the pieces of the puzzle are going to fit together."
The biggest win of your career came at Daytona in 2008 when you won the 50th Running of the Daytona 500. Talk about that day and what the win means to you.
"Winning at Daytona was an incredible experience. I won the ARCA race there in 2001, but nothing will ever compare to winning the 50th Running of the Daytona 500 in 2008. That was a dream-come-true. After the race, I said I could hear my dad's teardrops over the radio while he spotted for me as I came to the start-finish line to win, and I think that shows the importance of this race and this place to me and my entire family. I always said that just competing at Daytona was an honor. When I was a kid, my dad would bring me to Daytona for the 500 and we would make fake passes with construction paper and glitter so I could sneak into the garage and meet the drivers. Winning the Daytona 500 was a dream-come-true. I still can't put it all into words, but I would love to do it again.
"For me, it was the culmination of everything that me and my family had sacrificed for all those years of building my racing career and getting me to that moment. I still get speechless when I talk about it. But winning one Daytona isn't the goal. You want to win every race. It's obviously the biggest win of my career, and it was a great day. I believe Dale Jarrett had said the second one can be sweeter than the first. So I'm looking forward to getting down to Daytona and trying to get that second Daytona 500 win. But it would be pretty cool to get the other wins that I haven't gotten there before, too. I would love to start my season with a Budweiser Shootout win."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How does running the Budweiser Shootout benefit you in your preparation for the Daytona 500 the following week?
"Anytime you get track time, it's going to help us. If the race does nothing else, it will help us pick a drafting buddy who we can work with through all of Speedweeks, whether it's our own teammate or someone else who we really draft well with. Sometimes it's not another Chevrolet that you draft well with. Sometimes it ends up being another manufacturer that you really, really run well with in the draft. So the Budweiser Shootout really helps us pick that partner we may go into the Duels and the 500 with.
"It also helps speed up the process of getting your race trim figured out for the Daytona 500, which is obviously our sport's crown jewel. Everything we do in the Shootout, we can learn from and transfer right over to the 500 car. We may take a few more risks in the Shootout because it is a short race but, for the most part, everything we do in that race - good or bad - we learn from. Not only does it help us figure out the race package, but it gives our pit crew extra practice in race conditions and, with the fueling change this year, that's a really big deal. You know, I was a gas man for 12 years. I actually went out to pit practice one day to see what it was and how to do it. I got hung up twice trying to use the new fuel can. It's very different. Our engineers and our pit crew have been working really hard to figure out the best case scenario of how to make the pit stop work, and being in the Shootout is a big deal because it's their first live action. It's kind of like a free race for all of us to make sure we are on top of our game."
The No. 39 team has had bad racing luck every time it has been to Daytona. How important is it to come out of Daytona with a good finish, and how much does Speedweeks set the tone for the season?
"It's everything for us. We have yet to go down there and have good luck. We have always gone down there and qualified really well and run really strong, but we just haven't had any results. It's big for us. If we can come out of there with a top-15 finish, I'd be tickled to death because that would be almost 20 spots better than we have ever finished. I've told a lot of people that and they think I'm joking, but that's what I would like for us to do. It's so hard to overcome a bad finish at Daytona. The past two seasons, we have gone to Daytona and we have had a bad finish and then we've put ourselves in a really big hole. We want to change that cycle. If we can go to Daytona and come out with a decent finish, I will be pleased."
The No. 39 team ended the 2010 season with a lot of momentum you believe will carry over to the start of this season. Do you feel that, if you have a good run in the Budweiser Shootout, it will be huge for this team and perhaps be the start of turning your luck around on restrictor-plate tracks?
"Absolutely. If we can go through the Budweiser Shootout and run strong and come out of there unscathed, that's going to set the tone for the rest of Speedweeks. It builds momentum. It builds confidence. And that will just carry right on through the week. It just keeps multiplying from there. Hopefully, we can go down there and do that and be strong the rest of the week."
Does the team have any good luck charms that you guys are taking to Daytona in hopes of changing your racing luck?
"I think a couple of guys have gotten a few things they're going to bring down to Daytona with them and even stick in the car to try and change our luck. They're just going to try something different to see if it helps. The racing gods will either smile on you or frown on you and, hopefully, it's our turn for them to smile on us. We finished Talladega last fall (23rd), which was something we hadn't been able to do previously, so, hopefully, that's a sign our days of wrecking and destroying racecars at the restrictor-plate tracks are over. We'll just have to wait and see."
Being from Daytona and growing up around the racetrack, does that make Speedweeks and these races more important to you, personally?
"I've been going down there for years. And I've been fortunate enough to work with teams, and we've won the Daytona 500 twice down there. I've run well down there and I've run badly but, anytime you go there and you get to showcase your team in front of the home people - friends and family - it means a lot. No matter what kind of sport it is, it's always nice to go run well in front of your home crowd. You know, when you go to Speedweeks each year, there are four goals you want to accomplish - win the Shootout, qualify on the front row for the 500, win your Duel and win the Daytona 500. We have just as good a shot as anybody. So, the first goal at hand is to win the Shootout, and that would be awesome. I can't think of a better way to build momentum for the rest of Speedweeks and the season."