Reeling In a Spot in the Chase, One Race at a Time
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Aug. 23, 2011) – While on the surface the similarities between Ryan Newman’s two loves – fishing and racing – may seem few and far between, it’s easier in his mind to draw comparisons than one would think.
For Newman, fishing is about being one with nature. It’s just a man and his fishing rod. There’s nothing that he enjoys more than the monotonous routine of casting his line, waiting for a bite, reeling it in and then tossing the fish back into the pond – only to do it all over again. That’s how the South Bend, Ind., native escapes from his hectic reality and takes in a little peace and quiet.
At the racetrack, Newman’s escape is the moment he straps into his No. 39 Bass Pro Shops/Realtree Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). It’s all about a man and his 3,400-pound machine. As he puts on his helmet and pulls his belts tight, Newman can shut out the outside world – the cheering fans, the roaring engines – and focus solely on his task at hand, which this weekend will involve turning lap after lap at the .533-mile bullring known as Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race.
Newman’s goal both during his time spent fishing on the pond and racing on the track are one and the same: to hook and reel in the biggest prize. On the pond, he’s always hoping to catch the biggest smallmouth bass among his buddies. At the racetrack, the prize is a little more spectacular, of course. The ultimate goal is to get his hooks in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship but, for now, reeling in a coveted berth in the 2011 Chase for the Championship will suffice.
This weekend, Newman & Company rolls into Bristol with what appears to be a stronghold on a top-10 spot in the points.
After last weekend’s fifth-place finish at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Newman moved ever closer to earning that all important spot in the Chase, which would make him eligible for a run at the championship. With three races remaining until the Chase begins, Newman moved up one spot to seventh in the standings and now has 725 points, 74 markers back of series leader Kyle Busch and 55 points ahead of 11th-place Clint Bowyer.
This weekend, while the mentality that defines Bristol is “you-never-know-what-you’re-going-to-get-because-it’s-all-a-crapshoot,” Newman and his No. 39 SHR team have been at their best on short tracks. In five starts at Bristol since joining SHR in 2009, Newman has posted four top-10 finishes with his worst finish at the half-mile track being a 16th-place effort in the spring of 2010.
To survive Bristol and the inherent challenges of short-track racing – having someone wreck in front of you, having nowhere to go, thus being wrecked – Newman can draw on his experiences at the fishing hole.
Yes, for Newman there are similarities in the mental skills needed for both fishing and racing. And at Bristol, it is crucial to have your head in the game at all times.
As Newman explains it, one of the keys to being successful at fishing and racing is to be patient and take your time. You can’t get frustrated because that can really affect the outcome. And physically, you do have to hit your marks on both the racetrack and in fishing in order to be successful.
So, maybe there is something to Newman’s love for fishing and his success in racing, particularly at Bristol with Bass Pro Shops/Realtree being prominently featured on his No. 39 SHR Chevrolet. No other sponsor in the sport knows more about how fishing and NASCAR Sprint Cup racing mirror one another. The world’s largest retailer of all things bass fishing has been a longtime sponsor of not only SHR and team co-owner Tony Stewart, but the sport, in general. That can’t be a coincidence.
In 19 career starts at Bristol, Newman has two poles, a top-five finish and 11 top-10s. Newman also holds the qualifying record at the track, which he earned by turning a blistering-fast lap of 128.709 mph (14.908 seconds) in 2003.
This weekend, while Newman may not be able to spend as much time dipping a line in some of the spectacular fishing spots near Bristol, what he does plan on doing is adding to those racing stats and build on his points position in hopes of catching his spot in the Chase and eventually reeling in that first NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Bass Pro Shops/Realtree Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Bristol seems to be a good track for you and the No. 39 team. Why is that?
“It’s just a great racetrack and a great short track. I’ve always liked the banked racetracks, in general, over the flatter racetracks. So, I guess in some ways you could say I’m more comfortable at Bristol. I think Bristol has always been one of those short tracks that everybody loves. And, obviously, that’s changed with the different surface and the way they have changed it a little bit. But, ultimately, it’s still a great short track. I really love the banking and I love the fact it’s concrete and doesn’t seem like it changes a whole lot. Once you get a car right, it’s typically right for 500 laps, which is difficult to get on some of the racetracks. Honestly, there’s just no place like Bristol. I’ve told people before that Bristol is like a baby superspeedway. If something happens in front of you, it may not be your fault, but you can get caught up in somebody else’s wreck in the blink of an eye. You have to really be on your toes at Bristol. Everything happens so fast there. You don’t have time to think or blink. To me, the racing is at an all-time high at Bristol compared to the way it used to be. We can race side-by-side and actually gain spots without having to wreck someone.”
After a fifth-place run in Michigan last weekend, you are currently seventh in points – 74 behind leader Kyle Busch and 55 ahead of 11th-place Clint Bowyer. How do you feel about your spot in the Chase with three races remaining?
“We moved up a spot in the points after Michigan and we gained on the guys behind us, too, and that is the other part of it. We’re as far into the Chase right now as we were out of it last year and we only have a few races left. That’s what we have to do every week. I know that Tony Gibson wants to go into Richmond with a race lead so all we have to do is start the race. I feel we’re in a good position. We’ll try to have a good next few races and then we’ll have a better shot at the championship. We have three more races and every lap is different, so I don’t know that I can sit here and tell you the strategy on each lap, each restart, each racetrack or, for instance, the weather that we get at them. To me, it’s just going and attacking them as we need to attack them and putting ourselves in a position to keep gaining points. We’ve done a good job, like I said, up to this point. By no means do we feel like we’re – I shouldn’t say – a championship-caliber team, but I think we have some room that we need to grow to be more successful and have ourselves a better opportunity at winning the championship.”
What are some of the challenges at Bristol for a driver? Since it has been resurfaced, does the driver play less of a factor in the finish than before?
“It’s different every race there. Last fall, of the 500 laps, I bet I was in sixth place for 490 of them, it felt like. And I’ve been here before, where I’ve gone from first to 35th to 12th to 36th to third – that’s not exact, obviously. It changes every time the way the race plays out there. Because of where the yellows fall is basically what it amounts to. The way our fuel windows work there at the racetrack, it changes a lot of things the way guys cannot maneuver their fuel verses tire situation. That’s the biggest question mark in everybody’s mind – that and getting a good qualifying effort and you get those pit selections because this is one of the toughest pit roads. It’s just different every time, first of all. It can go a lot of green-flag runs and a lot of single-file racing, or it can be crazy and it can get randomly crazier. If I think back to my first time at Bristol, I don’t necessarily remember it but I know there have been a lot of different things that have happened every time I’ve been there.”
Why do you say that the racing is better at Bristol now? What are the key differences in the way it used to be and the way it is now?
“I like the racing better now than it was before. The track to me, before, was more demanding. Now, it’s smoother and there’s more maneuverability. If you miss your line just a little bit, you wash up the racetrack and you come down the hill and you come back off the corner where, before, if you missed your line a little bit, you were going to get freight-trained maybe 10 or 15 spots back. I think the racing from a driver’s perspective is much better than it used to be with the old configuration. I think one of the best races we ever had there was when it was brand new, with that combination of track and tire, we ran three-wide in the Nationwide race the last 20 or 30 laps and it was awesome. It was like, ‘Holy cow, what is going to happen next.’ Each lap was different. I like it the way it is.”
What is it about short-track racing that you and your No. 39 team like so well?
“I like using the middle pedal (brake). In all seriousness, I think it adds another parameter of a driver’s input when you have to modulate that third pedal. We have to go to places like Vegas and you’re using very little brake. When you are using a little bit, it’s hard to screw it up. I think our team has done a really good job with the brake package we have. I like the short tracks. I like having the character added to the program of modulating the brake. Places like Bristol, Martinsville, Phoenix and Richmond, we’ve been really strong as a team.”
Explain the similarities that you see between fishing and racing in terms of the mental or physical skills needed to be successful?
“I see the similarities with the mental skills that you need for both fishing and racing more so than the physical skills. One of the keys to being successful at both is to be patient and take your time. You can’t get frustrated because that can really affect the outcome. Physically, you do have to hit your marks on both the racetrack and in fishing to be successful.”