RYAN NEWMAN Looking to Rebound, Score at Hoosier State& ...
Looking to Rebound, Score at Hoosier State’s Hallowed Racetrack
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (July 20, 2010) -- Hoosier (Hoo-zar) -- "A person born or living in Indiana, industrious, hospitable, down home folks who enjoy popcorn, Indiana summers, racecars and basketball."
Growing up in Indiana, it seems only natural that South Bend native Ryan Newman would be predisposed to following his athletic talents to either the racetrack or the basketball court. After all, racing and basketball are two very important elements of any Hoosier's existence.
At the young age of 4, Newman crawled behind the wheel of a Quarter-Midget and started driving in circles. Day after day, Newman would practice in his driveway, turning lap after lap, his father Greg instructing him which line to run and where to turn in the corners in order to perfect his lap in the quickest time possible.
While racing was quickly becoming the young Newman's first love, it wasn't his only hobby. Like any good Indiana boy, Newman showcased his talents on the basketball court, as well. As a starting forward, Newman was well-versed in various offenses and defenses. His role on the court meant he knew how to dribble, pass, shoot and rebound the round leather ball.
Although Newman's skills on the basketball court were obvious, his heart raced when he heard the roar of an engine. His true love had always been, and would always be, speed. So, as a teenager, Newman opted to give up basketball, following both his heart and his talent to the racetrack -- all the way to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
This weekend, the Sprint Cup Series returns to Newman's home state for the annual running of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The speedway and the city have certainly played a critical role in shaping Newman's racing career.
From the time he raced a Quarter-Midget, Newman competed at tracks in and around the Indianapolis area. As he got older and moved up the racing ranks, he continued to impress onlookers.
In fact, Newman's first major USAC (United States Auto Club) win came at O'Reilly Raceway Park, just across town from the famed Brickyard. The win came in May 1997, when Newman drove the No. 39 Midget car to victory in the 52nd Night Before the 500 race at the .686-mile short track on the Saturday night prior to that year's Indianapolis 500.
It was the biggest win of Newman's young career at the time -- one he has since said was like winning the Daytona 500 -- and one he credits with putting him on the map. The prestigious win helped vault Newman into into a developmental ride in NASCAR just three years later.
There's no better time than this weekend for Newman to have another history-making moment in his racing career at Indianapolis. In nine Sprint Cup starts at the 2.5-mile oval, Newman has started lower than eighth just once at Indianapolis. He has only one top-10 finish, however -- a fourth-place effort in 2002.
The No. 39 team's recent misfortunes have left it on the outside looking in on the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. With seven races remaining, Newman sits 99 points outside of the 12-driver cutoff for the Chase. But for this Hoosier, who has both racing and basketball in his blood, it shouldn't be difficult to summon some of his old basketball skills and rebound from his past performances at the Brickyard and his recent turn of bad luck.
This weekend, Newman will suit up at the starting forward position for the No. 39 team. It is the perfect scenario for him to combine the best of his Indiana sports skills and score big with a win in the Brickyard 400.
RYAN NEWMAN, DRIVER OF THE NO. 39 HAAS AUTOMATION CHEVROLET IMPALA FOR STEWART-HAAS RACING:
What is your earliest memory of the Brickyard?
"My first memory of the Brickyard doesn't even involve a race. I was near the track by coincidence for one of the first open tire tests with the NASCAR Sprint Cup cars. I was with my mom, and we were getting tires from Hoosier for my Midget in Indianapolis. We were near the track and, long story short, we heard something other than Indy cars on track at the Speedway. We drove over there and I snuck into the garage area like I did. We kind of mingled and hung out for a little while. I talked to Jeff Gordon and some other drivers, and it was just neat because we got to be there first-hand for when the stock cars hit the racetrack. That was a really big deal to me because racing in Indiana was always open-wheel cars, and I was a big NASCAR fan and I got to see them in my home state. It was in the early '90s, but the bottom line was that it was cool to hear it and see it and remember it, and now I'm here racing stock cars. I remember it was a super-hot day. That was one of the first, if not the first day, Cup cars were on the track."
Talk about racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it means to you.
"I really enjoy the racetrack at Indy. It's a lot of fun. It's a great place to be out front with the clean air because it's flat. But just the history and the prestige of this speedway is what everybody really enjoys. The Brickyard is so special just because of the history of motorsports, in my eyes. It's not the greatest track for side-by-side racing. It is still not the raciest racetrack we go to. Indy is the fastest and flattest racetrack we go to. That combination makes for more difficult racing, and track position becomes much more important. But like I said, for me, it's all about the history of the speedway, the history of our sport, the amount of fans who show up, the amount of fans who are in the state of Indiana is huge. Just being a part of it is special."
You have a great grasp of the history of not only NASCAR but motorsports, in general. You speak often of how much the history of Indianapolis means to you. Talk about that a little bit.
"This place means a lot. From a pure history of auto racing standpoint, that, to me, means the most. I'm a big racing historian. I like the history of the sport. And I've always said, to know people like A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Jim Hurtubise and Mel Kenyon, that all those people who have been through here at some point -- walking the same path out to the pit lane and driving the same line on the racetrack that I am -- is something really special. To know that I'm stepping in their footprint as I walk to my racecar, that, to me, is what's special. They're my heroes just as much as anybody else right now. I look forward to the race because of the history of auto racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I'm a big fan of the old Watson Roadsters from the '60s, and things like that. To me, it's cool that I'm driving in the same tire tracks that all the greats used to drive on."
Being an Indiana native, what would a win in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis mean to you?
"To me, it's not about being from Indiana. It's more about the Brickyard, itself. It's "The Race," "The Speedway," the history of all the drivers who have walked through the garage area or driven across the Yard of Bricks. To think about that makes just being a part of it an honor to me. But a win at Indy would be big, for sure. Not as big as the Daytona 500, but it would be a great win. It would be special to me because I have so much family in the area, and I grew up racing around the area. The history of the sport and the history of my career at the track would make it a big deal in my eyes."
With seven races to go to the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, your team sits 99 points outside the top-12? What are your objectives over these next seven races in order to secure a spot in the top-12?
"I mean we have to be better every weekend than what we have been. We are in a position we definitely did not want to be in at this point in the season, where we are having to fight our way into the Chase. But we're not giving up on that, either. We got behind the eight ball early, and we have worked really hard to put ourselves in contention to get into the Chase, but we have to work harder. We haven't put together a string of top-fives and top-10s like we did last season, and that's something we need to do right now to get into that top-12. I have a lot of faith in my team, and I know they have a lot of confidence in me, so we're just going to dig deep and do what we can to get ourselves back in the top-12 because I think we all believe we deserve to be in the Chase."
TONY GIBSON, CREW CHIEF OF THE NO. 39 HAAS AUTOMATION CHEVROLET IMPALA FOR STEWART-HAAS RACING:
What are the challenges of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a crew chief?
"It's a really fast place, so you can't be a little bit off there and get away with it because track position is really so critical. That's the No. 1 thing, because guys just can't pass. It's really, really hard to pass there. The only places you can pass are off of turn two and turn four. You get those good runs down the straightaway and that's really the only time you're going to pass somebody. Track position is just key. Last year, we had a really good car and we didn't pit right. We pitted on the fuel mileage side versus pitting on the track-position side, and it ended up being a race where track position meant more than fuel mileage. It can go either way, but I think you have to pit as early as you can pit. What happens under green is that guys will short-pit you and get fresh tires. They have run four or five laps on fresh tires and, when you do pit, you can't make that up. They'll be half a straightway ahead of you when you do come out of the pits. That's where we made our biggest mistake last year. We had a really good racecar. We just didn't pit right. We pitted as late as we could pit to be sure we could make it on fuel, and guys were pitting early and getting track position on us and that just killed us in the end.
"Our plan this year is just to pit as early as we can, maybe even a lap ahead of our fuel window, and roll the dice on getting a caution at the end that puts us in our window on fuel. We really don't have a whole lot to lose right now. Everything is to gain. We just need to take some chances and hope it works out for us."
With seven races to go to the Chase for the Championship, the No. 39 team is 99 points out. What is the mindset and strategy of the team for these races, and to get back into the Chase?
"We've got to take some chances, and a couple of those guys who are racing for the spot right there with us need to have not terrible days, but maybe finish 10 or 12 spots behind us. Like I said, we went to Loudon and gained something like 70 points in just one race. So, we could get a huge chunk of those points back this weekend, but it's going to take some of the other guys not running as well or having issues to put us right back in the game. That's just the way it is. Daytona was just a huge setback for us. We were 15 points out when we got to Daytona and, if we could have survived Daytona right where we were running, I think we would have had a spot in the top-12 and our mindset would have been a little different going into Chicago and we wouldn't have taken so many risks on our setup. I think, right now, we're in offense mode. We just have to get after it and make stuff happen to get back into this Chase."
You've had the chance to kiss the Yard of Bricks before, when you were a car chief for Jeff Gordon back in 2001. What does a win at Indianapolis mean?
"It's like winning the Daytona 500. I know that when I was part of a team that won it, it was pretty darn impressive. We only get to go there once a year. It's such a historic place, so to be able to go there and win, it's pretty awesome. If Ryan could go there and win, being that he grew up in Indiana and raced all around there, I know it would be really special. We need a weekend to get back in the game. This would be the perfect weekend to turn everything around, but to win at the Brickyard would be really special, especially for Newman and the guys on the team, and for our owners -- especially Tony (Stewart)."