RYAN NEWMAN Looking for Some Home Cooking in California KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Feb. 16, 2010) -- Ryan Newman never thought he'd call California "home." Admittedly, it's a bit of a stretch for the Indiana native, who would rather be chopping wood or...
Looking for Some Home Cooking in California
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Feb. 16, 2010) -- Ryan Newman never thought he'd call California "home."
Admittedly, it's a bit of a stretch for the Indiana native, who would rather be chopping wood or casting a fishing pole on a pond instead of crunching numbers on a computer or sitting in an endless line of traffic. Picturing himself at ease in the hustle and bustle of the massive metropolitan expanse that is Southern California isn't something the avid outdoorsman has ever given much consideration.
That is, until now.
When Newman and his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team roll into Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., this weekend, they are home -- the home track for Haas Automation, the co-owner of SHR and this weekend's primary sponsor for the No. 39 Chevrolet.
Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the western world, has its headquarters in Oxnard, Calif., which is located 100 miles west of Auto Club Speedway. The company's 1-million-square-foot facility houses 1,200 employees and is the largest, most modern machine tool manufacturing operation in the United States.
Newman's newest sponsor also hails from California. Tornados, which will sponsor Newman's No. 39 Chevrolet in nine races in 2010, is part of the family-owned Ruiz Foods, whose headquarters are located in Dinuba, Calif., about 250 miles northwest of Auto Club Speedway.
So, if Newman's ties to California thanks to his sponsors can help him get a leg up on the field -- or gain a home-track advantage, of sorts, in this weekend's Auto Club 500 -- then Newman will gladly embrace the role of a hometown favorite at Fontana.
Over the years, the 2-mile speedway hasn't been one of Newman's best tracks. In 14 starts at Fontana, he has one pole, two top-five and four top-10 finishes. Last year, in his first season with SHR, Newman and the No. 39 team finished 28th and 15th, respectively, in the two Cup races at the track.
Newman & Company roll into Fontana and the second race of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season determined to improve on the past. Last year, in the team's inaugural season, there were no expectations. But in its sophomore campaign, the bar has been set high for the No. 39 team -- improve at each track, win races, earn a berth in the Chase for the Championship, and contend for the overall title.
Last weekend's season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway wasn't how the team wanted to start out the new year. Newman finished a disappointing 34th after being involved in an accident in his No. 39 Chevrolet just seven laps from the end of the race.
Now, the team turns its focus to Auto Club Speedway and racing in its sponsor's backyard. There's no better time for the No. 39 Haas Automation team to start achieving some of its goals set for the 2010 season -- win races, build momentum and give the hometown supporters in the crowd something to cheer about.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing
Talk about racing at Auto Club Speedway.
"Unfortunately, it's not one of my favorite places to go. I have not had the best record at California. The racetrack can be a lot of fun because it's a very smooth track and super fast, but I just haven't done all that well there throughout my career. It's a track where, a lot of times, your team's strategy determines the finish because, a lot of times, it becomes a fuel-mileage race. It will be even more interesting to see how, and if, that plays out with the new green-white-checker rule that NASCAR started last weekend at Daytona. We'll just have to see how the race plays out.
"I do think we'll see some better racing at California because I think the racing has gotten better each time we've gone there. At this track in general, the more it's aged, the better it's gotten, as with most race tracks. I think the double-file restarts help the racing a lot, too. They are more advantageous at bigger racetracks, especially the wider ones. When you have a wide racing groove like at California, the cars can get three-wide in the corners and anything can happen. California is not my favorite racetrack. I'll tell you that first-hand. But that doesn't mean we can't have a good showing there. We improved on our spring performance when we came back in the fall. We had a good car. We overcame a cut tire, but we got bottled up in the wrong line on the restart and ended up getting shuffled back to 15th. Tony Gibson (crew chief) and the guys have really worked on our cars to make them better and lighter in the offseason, and I know they worked a lot on the seven-post and did other things to improve our package for the mile-and-a-half and 2-mile tracks like California. So, we'll see what happens with the Haas Automation Chevrolet. Our goal is to improve each time we go back."
This is a big weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing because Auto Club Speedway is a "home track," of sorts, for team co-owner Haas Automation, which is based in nearby Oxnard, Calif. Talk about the importance of this race for you and the team.
"Everybody wants to be the best when they are racing in their backyard. Just think about how everybody wants to win at Charlotte. You want bragging rights. You want to be top dog on your home turf. California isn't my home track, but it is a very important race to our co-owner and our sponsor, Haas Automation. Haas Automation has been involved in NASCAR for several years, but I think we have an opportunity to give them something they have not had before as a team sponsor and that's a win in the Sprint Cup Series. And this year, we have another sponsor that calls California home that has come on board -- Tornados. They are an associate sponsor for us this weekend in California, but they are the primary sponsor for nine races. I'm actually going to their headquarters and plant in Dinuba, Calif., on Thursday. We want to make everyone involved with both of these companies proud, and I don't think there is a better way to do that than to have a strong run on Sunday. It's cool that a guy from Indiana will have so much support at California.
"To me, California is really where our season starts. Daytona is our biggest race of the season, and things are done a little differently throughout Speedweeks. I've always kind of thought that California is a better gauge when it comes to determining how you compare to the other 42-plus teams that are at the racetrack."
Last weekend, Daytona was not what you had hoped for. How do you put that behind you and now focus on California and the season in front of you? You have talked a lot about the 2010 season and what it means to SHR because it is your second season. What are the team's goals?
"Daytona was very disappointing -- more so than I think a lot of people realize. We were just biding our time in the back of the field and, with 10 laps or so to go, we decided it was time to make our move. I don't really know what happened, but I was the recipient of it. We were seven laps from the end of the race, well before the green-white-checker, and we ended up with a destroyed racecar. It was just very disappointing. We wanted to come out of the box strong at Daytona, but we walked away with a 34th-place finish. We had good cars but we didn't get the finish we wanted. Honestly, though, we proved last year that you don't have to leave Daytona with a top-10 to have a good year. You want to, obviously. Everybody wants to. Daytona is the biggest race and we start with it but, in the end, it's about consistency and it's about teamwork and it's about reliability. Our team did a great job in 2009. I think it was 99.75 percent of all laps that both our cars (the Nos. 39 and the No. 14 of Tony Stewart) completed, and that's phenomenal. That's phenomenal for any team, any organization, and I think our guys did a great job for a new organization to be able to achieve that from a mechanical standpoint.
"And in 2010, I think that's something we want to build on. We want to make improvements. We want to make the Chase. We want to win the championship. And I think we can, as an organization, be that consistent to maintain that slope, to polish up on the things we have learned, to make the corrections on the mistakes that we have made. I think that, ultimately, I want to win a championship and, I feel that, you know, this year we are closer than we were last year because of our time together and the chemistry we have created over the past 365 days. We want to make sure we improve because, in so many people's eyes, we weren't supposed to do what we did last year. From a team standpoint, from a performance standpoint, it's important that we move forward and progress, like you said. How we do that is honestly a people thing. It's teamwork. It's building better race cars, communicating, all those things that the 48 team has done for the last four years straight. We've got a lot of work ahead of us to get to that point, but I think our organization has done a lot of great things in the offseason for our people and for our racecars to be stronger, and we're going to try to prove that this year."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing
Last year, the No. 39 team posted 28th-place and 15th-place finishes at Auto Club Speedway. At the time, you said you considered the team's 2-mile-track program to be one of its weaknesses. How do you feel you have improved the program, and what is your outlook on this weekend's race?
"We didn't run well in our first trip to California at all. We were really good in qualifying practice. We were, like, third or fourth quick, but when we went to qualify, we got loose and we just didn't get a lap in. Then, at the very start of the race, we had a transponder issue, where we had to come back down pit road to replace the transponder for NASCAR. And while all that was happening, we ended up with a loose wing mount plate and, later on, we had a loose wheel. It was almost like we were out of it before we even started. We struggled for track position all day and we really didn't run that well. We just couldn't recover from all the issues we had.
"We went back for the second race, and we definitely ran a lot better. I think you could tell we had made improvements on our 2-mile -- Michigan-, California-type -- racetracks. We didn't hit the setup solid, but I think we were fifth or sixth with something like seven laps to go. The caution came out, and Ryan ended up being in the wrong line for the double-file restart and got shuffled back. We had a shot at a solid top-10 finish. That race showed we had made some gains. I think throughout the rest of last season, we felt like every time we went to a mile-and-half or 2-mile track, we made even more gains. We've spent a lot of time on the seven-post and at the wind tunnel, so we can get this part of our program where we think it should be. We think our cars are better this year and, hopefully, we can go out there and just keep improving on our finishing position.
"We feel more confident going to California this year, but you never know. Sometimes, drivers just seem to struggle on certain racetracks. Ryan will be the first to tell you that he hasn't had a lot of success at California, but we're hoping to change that. I just hope we've got a package that can help him get over that hump. We've made improvements and, hopefully, we can continue to make gains on it, so each time we go back to these tracks, we run better and we qualify better. That's our goal."
Many teams consider this weekend's race to be, really, the first race of the season because Daytona is such a different deal than any other race throughout the course of the season. So what does it take to be competitive at Auto Club Speedway? And how important will strategy from atop the pitbox be at Fontana?
"Track position is huge at California. It's one of those racetracks -- kind of like a Pocono -- where you can take a not-so-good-handling racecar and, if you can get track position, you can hang on and do a pretty good job there. The deal is that, once the tires equalize, you've got what you've got. Your car runs so much better in clean air than it does back there in dirty air, and we have seen that time and time again. So track position is going to be a key for us.
"We've got a new tire going out to California this weekend. It's got more grip, so it's probably going to be faster. And hopefully with the new tire and more grip, that will help fix some of our problems we had last year. Obviously, the new tire is going to help everybody, but maybe it's something that can get us just a little bit closer or make it a little easier for us to find the setup that makes Ryan happy with the car.
"Strategy and luck play into every race. As for strategy, that's always been part of having a good race at California. A lot of races there have come down to fuel mileage, so now, with the green-white-checker deal, we have to figure that into the fuel mileage, too. If you were figuring out your fuel mileage for just one green-white-checker, you can't do that anymore. Now, you've got to do that for potentially three. What you thought was your window for fuel last year, it's not going to be that, anymore. You've got to keep that in mind. The green-white-checker came into play the very first race after NASCAR came up with the rule, and you know it's going to happen more than not. It's definitely going to be a strategy race."
The No. 39 Haas Automation team came out of Daytona in 34th place. Last year, the team left Daytona in 36th place. Recap the week at Daytona. How does something like that affect the team, and how do you get everyone pumped up for this weekend's race at California?
"This year's outing at Daytona was almost a mirror image of last year for us. The only difference was that our Daytona 500 car actually made it through the entire week. We had the same car until seven laps to go in the Daytona 500. But it was a disappointing week for us in the end. We had good cars throughout all of Speedweeks -- in the Budweiser Shootout and in the Daytona 500. In the Shootout, our strategy was staying in the back and waiting on guys to wreck. It didn't really pay off because, when we had to get going with eight to go, we ended up right in the middle of them when they wrecked. We qualified third again for the Daytona 500, and missed the front row by just a little bit for the second year. Then our strategy in the Duels was just to run hard and try to stay up front, which is what we were doing. We were running in the top-five with four to go and we felt we had a shot to win it. But the caution fell and we ended up in the wrong line. We just didn't get going on the final restart of the Duel. And, in the 500, Ryan got wrecked with seven laps to go as he was making his move. We've tried strategies all across the board and none of it seems to work. It just comes down to pure luck. We haven't had a whole lot of that, so we just accept it and go on.
"But one bad Speedweeks doesn't define this team. We've been in worse situations than this. We've been here before. It's nothing new for this team. We'll dig like hell, and we'll get out of it. In my opinion, it's not a speed bump for us. It's like going to the Super Bowl and, once you've done it three or four times, you know that if you get behind on the scoreboard, you can always make it up and come back. If you believe in yourself and your team, you can accomplish it. This team proved last year it can overcome any obstacle that is thrown its way. This team has been through way worse than this and has come out on the good side."