Stewart-Haas Racing press release
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 4, 2011) – With three races complete in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is 11th in the standings, 41 markers back of leader Kevin Harvick.
And that’s not exactly where Newman and the Haas Automation team expected to be 30 percent of the way into the Chase.
After ending up on the wrong side of a fuel-mileage gamble at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., cutting a tire late in the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, and having to fight an ill-handling car last week at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Newman has brought home finishes of eighth, 25th and 23rd, respectively, and his road to the championship is now more of a mountain.
Not to say it can’t be done. It’s just a little tougher.
Entering this week’s Hollywood Casino 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Newman, crew chief Tony Gibson and the rest of the Haas Automation team know they must exit the 1.5-mile oval with a good finish if they are to have any chance of competing for the championship.
And there is a little bit of hope when one takes a gander at the statistics.
Since Newman finished 15th in the June Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas, the No. 39 team has been strong on “intermediate” tracks like Kansas, which are 1.5 or 2 miles in length. Newman finished sixth in June at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn and followed that up with a fourth-place result later that month at the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. In the return trip to Michigan in August, Newman finished fifth.
Despite a disappointing 20th-place result in September at the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway, Newman opened the Chase with an eighth-place result at Chicagoland. All told, Newman has finished eighth or better in four of the last five intermediate track races.
That’s good news for the No. 39 team, not only at Kansas, but also Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Homestead-Miami Speedway – all 1.5-mile tracks left to be run during the remainder of the Chase.
On top of all that, Newman knows how to win at Kansas as his ninth career Sprint Cup Series victory took place in October 2003 at the 1.5-mile oval while driving for Penske Racing. Bill Elliott dominated that race, leading four times for a race-high 115 laps, but Newman and crew chief Matt Borland (now vice president of competition at SHR) gambled on fuel and completed the final 65 laps without a pit stop. Newman took the lead from Jeremy Mayfield on lap 240 and never looked back as he led the final 28 laps en route to victory.
So while the Chase may not have started the way Newman and the No. 39 team would have liked, the fact remains that seven races are left. And anything can happen with 2,875.5 miles of racing left, give or take a few green-white-checkered finishes.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
The next two races are at 1.5-mile tracks – Kansas and Charlotte. Are you looking forward to these tracks, and what is the difference between them?
“Kansas is quite a bit different with the asphalt. The seams are the same as in the asphalt, I guess you could say. The way we have to cut them and work them, cars can be pretty sensitive there. Charlotte is a totally different animal with the banking and the speed and the tire combination that we have at that racetrack. I look forward to both of them. We had a decent car at Kansas in the first race and never got track position and the improvements we made in the car and the team at Chicago, I look forward to going back to a mile-and-a-half racetrack because that had been one of our weaknesses and I feel like it is one of our strengths right now.”
How does random luck affect you?
“The same way it has affected Tony Stewart. If we would not have run out of fuel at Chicago, and if we had not blown out a tire with five to go at Loudon, we would have been one-two in points heading into last week. He has had the fortunate side of the luck and we have had the unfortunate side of the luck, running out of fuel when he had the fuel to get to the end, and he didn’t blow a tire, we did. Those types of things. It’s a cycle. It’s part of what we do. Some things you’re in control of. The fuel-mileage thing we are in control of as a team, from my standpoint as a driver, from the guys’ standpoint, getting the car packed full of fuel, having the fuel mileage right with the carburetor and everything else. That is something we’re in control of. The tire issue, I’m not really sure how much we’re in control of that but, in the end, I feel like we have run well. We should be top two or three in points coming from seventh when we started. You have got to keep the positive side of things, but you still also have to sit there and say, ‘Man, this is not good, we need to turn the corner here.’”
As a driver, what goes through your mind when you’re in a fuel-mileage race?
“I guess it’s a different kind of teamwork because I’m relying on what Tony Gibson, my crew chief, and race engineer, what they are saying I need to do, what they are telling me, what I need to save. And I have to put that number, whether it’s in gallons or laps, into my head and figure out what I have to do in the racecar to be able to save enough fuel to make it to the end. He wants me to have enough fuel for a green-white-checkered and I’m not worried about that. There’s a happy medium of good teamwork that goes on and the performance of the driver who has to actually do what his crew chief is asking him. It’s not easy to do. There is no fuel gage, there is no speedometer, there is no way of exactly knowing what you’re doing other than what you’re doing with the pedals and the steering wheel. It’s an added challenge that I enjoy being a part of. I enjoy it more so when we have better fuel mileage than other people. It’s a fun part of what we do, at times. I don’t want every race to be like that, but I think it does add an extra level of excitement for the fans, the suspense of ‘Is he going to run out, and when and will somebody else, before him or after him?’ Those types of things.”
What makes a difference in saving fuel? Is it the driver?
“Genetics (laughs). The car balance is one thing, knowing what you have to do to conserve that energy is the other part of it. Track position is a big factor of it, too. There were times at Chicago that I was getting drafts off of guys on the straightaways just to try to save some fuel. There are several ways and different parameters that give you the opportunity to save fuel. It is a matter of figuring out how much you actually are saving as a driver and having the performance to get to victory lane and-or get the best possible finish you can.”
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Overall thoughts heading to Kansas?
“We ran well at Chicago, so we’re taking that same car and that same set-up. The racetracks are really similar and we’re really happy with the way we ran there. Obviously, we ran out of gas there, but we were happy with the performance. So, hopefully, we can take that and take it into Kansas and perform just as well. We think we have a good shot for sure.”
With 1.5-mile tracks making up half of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, how important are those races?
“Every race is critical. It only takes one to screw up the whole thing. There are only 10, so they’re all important, but the mile-and-a-halves do dominate it, so it’s important to run consistently and run well. I feel confident based on the way we’ve run there before and at Chicago and, hopefully, some of that will translate over to Charlotte and Texas, which it should. We’ve got good tracks coming up for us. We’ve not had the finishes we want the last couple of weeks, but that’s in the past and we can’t control that. We need to focus on today. Kansas is a strong track for us and we’ll go there with a plan to win it.”