Proving To Be a Quick Study at Sprint Cup’s Newest Track
Ryan Newman prides himself on being a college graduate.
The 2001 Purdue University engineering graduate is currently the only active driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with a college degree.
For Newman, earning his degree while working his way up the racing ranks in stock cars was not only important to his family, it was something he felt he needed to do. In case a career behind the wheel of the racecar didn’t work out, Newman knew the importance of having something to fall back on and that something was his degree in vehicle structure engineering.
Lucky for Newman, though, he proved to be a quick learner not only in the classroom but also on the racetrack.
In 2000, Newman embarked on his NASCAR career by running a then-unprecedented “A-B-C” schedule for Penske Racing – meaning Newman took part in a mix of ARCA Racing Series events, NASCAR Nationwide Series (formerly called the Busch Series) races, and Sprint Cup races. That’s “ARCA-Busch-Cup,” or “A-B-C,” for those of you keeping score at home.
The idea was that running a partial schedule in a variety of series would be the best classroom imaginable for the Indiana native who had dreamed of being a NASCAR driver since he was a 4-year-old running Quarter Midgets and racing his stock car slot cars on a toy racetrack in his garage.
The program would help teach the young Newman, who was a USAC champion and open-wheel standout, how to be a stock car driver.
But no one knew how quickly Newman would adjust to his new role. As it turned out, Newman was a quick study learning the nuances of a stock car – and he was just as fast at mashing the pedals from the driver’s seat.
He won in just his second-ever stock car start for Penske Racing in the ARCA race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in July 2000.
And he followed that up with an even more impressive performance at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta – the site of this Saturday night’s inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the track.
It was just his third stock car start, but Newman scored his first-ever stock car pole in that ARCA race at Kentucky. He’s since become well-known in the Sprint Cup garage for his penchant for turning quick laps, and Newman didn’t stop with a fast qualifying lap for that ARCA race.
He dominated the race, leading 83 of 134 laps, and won his second consecutive ARCA event by almost a full second.
It was Newman’s early success behind the wheel, as he showed during that race in Kentucky, that set the stage for his now decade-long Sprint Cup Series career.
With 17 races in the books for the 2011 season, Newman has four top-five and seven top-10 finishes. And now, with just nine races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, Newman sits 10th in points, 88 markers behind series leader Kevin Harvick.
While Newman has the ARCA win in the Bluegrass State and has tested at the track, it has been some time since he made laps around the 1.5-mile oval. However, he has proven time and again throughout his career that his ability as a quick study has consistently turned into one success after another.
So, as the No. 39 Tornados team travels to Kentucky Speedway for its inaugural Cup race this weekend, it hopes its driver can prove once again just how smart he is behind the wheel and how quick of a learner he can be.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts on going to Kentucky?
“I look forward to going to Kentucky. I was one of the first people to win at Kentucky Speedway back in the ARCA series when they opened the place up in 2000. I think it was actually the track’s third race at that point, or something like that. I started on the pole, led a lot of laps and ended up winning the race, which was a pretty big feather in our cap at that point in time. It was my third start for Penske Racing in the ARCA series, and I ended up getting my first pole and my second win. So it was a pretty big deal for me and that team at that point in time. So, going back to Kentucky is going to be pretty cool for me. Going back to a place few people in the Sprint Cup Series have won at, and a place you have history at where other people don’t, is a good thing. I definitely think it’s a great track and a great market and I look forward to it.”
It’s been 10 years since the Sprint Cup Series has added a new track to the schedule. What’s the biggest challenge heading into Kentucky, a track where the Sprint Cup Series has never raced?
“I don’t think there are going to be huge challenges at Kentucky, between our practice sessions – the opening test day Thursday and our practices on Friday – on top of the fact that a lot of guys have had experience there in the Nationwide or Truck Series. It’s part of the cookie-cutter spectrum of racetracks, where it’s a mile-and-a-half and semi-banked. I don’t think there are going to be any big issues. It’s a little bit of a rougher racetrack, from what I understand. I haven’t been up there to test for a while. Just getting a good shock package and getting a good feel for what the tire is up to there is going to be a big part of it, but we have a lot of practice to do that. If we don’t get it figured out by race time on Saturday night, it’s out own fault.”
What track do you think you can compare Kentucky to?
“I think Kentucky is probably closest to the old Las Vegas track, which a lot of the drivers have a lot of experience at before it became new Vegas. Old Vegas had the sweeping corners and it was pretty close to round all the way around, with the exception of the backstretch, and that’s kind of how Kentucky is.”
How long will it take you to get comfortable in the car, get into the rhythm of that particular track?
“I don’t think it will be too bad. A lot of people have had a lot of testing at Kentucky in the past. I don’t think the tires have changed a whole lot. The cars have changed a little bit. You know, a lot of teams did their ‘Car of Tomorrow’ testing up at Kentucky religiously, so while we haven’t raced yet at Kentucky, there is a lot of experience in the field at Kentucky. I think, for us, it’s more important to put on a good show for a new group of fans – a good race, side-by-side racing and, hopefully, a good finish."
By: stewart-haas racing