‘Schooling’ the Field
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 10, 2012) – Here’s a quick true-or-false question: Ryan Newman’s favorite subject in college was calculus. (Read through to find your answer.)
The driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) prides himself not just on his success on the racetrack, but on his accomplishments off the racetrack, as well.
While Newman’s favorite college class wasn’t calculus – perhaps it was algebra instead (true or false)? – there’s no doubt one of his biggest off-track accomplishments came when he earned his college diploma.
In August 2001, Newman graduated from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., with a bachelor’s degree in vehicle structural engineering. Today, the 11-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran is the only full-time Sprint Cup driver with a college degree.
For Newman, not going to college was never an option. Although he had long set his sights on a career as a NASCAR driver, his family was insistent he have a backup plan in place just in case his career behind the wheel didn’t pan out. So, he went to college and attended classes, focusing his studies on his passions – racing, cars and engineering.
Newman readily admits the knowledge he gained while in school has proven invaluable to him as a racecar driver. It has also greatly assisted him in his role as a spokesman for the U.S. Army.
The U.S. Army provides millions of dollars in college tuition for Soldiers each year. The Army focuses on education initiatives, as they are vital to the preparedness of the nation’s future workforce and leaders. The strength of the nation is directly dependent on the educational training and achievements of today’s students, which is why the Army strongly supports various education initiatives. Succinctly, the Army is the strength of the Nation, and the Soldier is the strength of the Army.
U.S. Army Soldiers are members of an elite group, for they possess a mental, emotional and physical strength like no other, and the U.S. Army Racing Team reflects those strengths. Newman’s college education embodies this strength and places him in elite company as well, but so do his exploits six races into the 36-race marathon that is the 2012 Sprint Cup season.
Newman has already won a race this year, something perennial race victors Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch cannot yet say.
Two weeks ago at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Newman schooled the field and proved to be “Mr. Opportunity,” as he found himself in the right place at the right time to find victory.
In a race that epitomized the attributes of the Army Strong Soldier – putting the mission first, a never-quit attitude and a refusal to accept defeat – Newman won despite falling one lap down early in the race after serving a penalty for speeding on pit road. Throughout that challenge, Newman and his No. 39 team refused to give up, fought for every spot on the racetrack and earned their first victory of the 2012 season.
The triumph put Newman in good position early in the season for a spot in the elite, 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup – the 10-race dash to the season-ending championship.
While it was Newman’s first victory since his win from the pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon last July, it was the third victory in the past four races for SHR, and the eighth in the past 16 for the organization.
This weekend, Newman and the entire SHR team plan to continue their winning ways at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
While Newman and his SHR teammate and team owner Tony Stewart have been dominant over the last 16 races, the 1.5-mile Texas oval hasn’t been kind to the No. 39 team. In six starts since joining SHR in 2009, Newman and the No. 39 team have not earned a top-10 finish at Texas. But, they’ve also never finished worse than 20th.
In 17 career Sprint Cup starts at Texas, Newman has two poles, one win (2003), three top-five and three top-10 finishes. Currently eighth in points, Newman hopes to build on his recent victory at Martinsville and capitalize on his team’s momentum. In the past four races, Newman has posted three top-10 finishes.
Regardless of the outcome in Saturday night’s Samsung Mobile 500, Newman will be keenly aware of the information that can be gleaned from this mid-April at Texas. The series will return to the ultra-fast, D-shaped layout in November for the third to last race of the season, and as someone who obviously knows the value of an education, Newman will be learning during each lap in practice, qualifying and the 334-lap Sprint Cup feature.
So, while “schooling” the competition on-track is always good, expanding his knowledge of a track that will play a pivotal role in the 2012 Chase will be even better for both the driver and crewmembers of the No. 39 U.S. Army team.
Lastly, the answer queried at this story’s opening is “false.” Newman’s favorite subject in college was pottery because, as the avid outdoorsman who enjoys working on the farm and restoring old cars says, “I like to work with my hands.” He even has pieces of pottery on display at his log home, which would augment another hand-crafted piece of hardware – the winning trophy from Saturday night’s Samsung Mobile 500.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How does winning a race early in the season help your confidence throughout the rest of the year?
“It’s big for us from a points standpoint because we gain an advantage in the points, but primarily to give us something to fall back on if we need to win to make it into the Chase. That is a sense of relief, but that relief doesn’t get you anywhere when it comes to performance. It just gives you something to fall back on. Just like a U.S. Army Soldier has a mission, we still have a mission regardless of one victory. And that mission is still to go out there and win each weekend and make the effort to win each and every race and keep moving our way up in the point standings so we don’t have to rely on the win. It is a relief and that’s what we shoot for. But, realistically, it doesn’t matter if it was right now or if it was three races before the Chase.”
You have a degree in vehicle structural engineering. How has that been able to help you in your racing career?
“It’s just taken me to another level, as far as understanding the racecar, the physics part of it, the gravities and the way all the things that work with the racecar, mechanically. That makes a difference to me, personally. I’m not saying it makes me smarter than everybody else, but it’s made me a smarter person to the point that I tell anybody that, if you have the opportunity to go to college or to a university to get a further education, do it. What you major in isn’t what’s going to make you the smart guy, ultimately. It’s the well-roundedness that you come out of any kind of further education with that makes you a better person, and will make you a smarter person in order to make more money and be happier in the future. My actual degree is vehicle structural engineering. It’s a mechanical backbone, but it gave me the opportunity to be flexible in school, and then I obviously have that diploma and that education to fall back on for the rest of my career. As far as what it means for sponsors, I think the fact that I have a college education is something that works very well with the U.S. Army’s goals and objectives. They do education programs at the racetrack where I have the opportunity to talk to students about going to college, and that’s something I’ve really enjoyed doing. I’m very proud to represent the Army and what it is to be ‘Army Strong’ and to have that mental, physical, and emotional strength of no other. At the education programs, we talk about our lives from a driver’s perspective, a team’s perspective, and from the Army’s perspective, and what it is and the ties between NASCAR and the Army. We both have similar goals and we’re trying to achieve our dreams and win battles, but we do it through teamwork and communication, and both of our strategies are pretty much the same.”
What does it say about Stewart-Haas Racing that the organization has won eight of the last 16 races dating back to last season, including three of the last four?
“I joked after the Martinsville win that I was just glad to finally contribute to that total. And while I was joking, I think I was also glad to finally get that win. Our No. 39 U.S. Army team has worked so hard and we’ve been so close. It was nice to finally be in the right place at the right time. And I’m just proud of all of these guys for not giving up and for staying the course and keeping their heads in the game no matter what happened. We proved at Martinsville how Army Strong we were when we came back from a lap down due to an error on my part – a speeding penalty. We stayed tough and confident and, in the end, it paid off for us with a big win. I think the win also showed just how strong Stewart-Haas is. (Tony) Stewart had won on a 2- mile racetrack (California) the week before and then we won on a half-mile racetrack. And Stewart already won on a mile-and-a-half racetrack. So we’ve had a good, strong start to the season when it comes to looking at the racetracks and the places that we race at, and that makes a difference. Some guys are only capable of winning at certain racetracks, and we’ve proved that Stewart-Haas is capable of a lot. We really hope to take advantage of the momentum we have and continue to build on that each and every race. We ran fourth at Las Vegas earlier this season, so it would be nice to have another solid run at another mile-and-a-half track.”
Talk about racing at Texas.
“I always look forward to racing at Texas. I love the speed at Texas. It’s a fast racetrack. Texas is actually one of the fastest tracks we go to all year, so you have to be on top of your game because things can happen pretty quickly. It’s a track I’ve always liked, although it doesn’t necessarily show in my finishes. It’s a smooth, fast racetrack and there are multiple grooves, so it’s fun to race there. The asphalt has aged the track to the point it has gotten better and better each time we come back. What I mean is that the track has basically gotten wider. It’s gotten a bit more character. A little more bumpy, which is fine. I like it. I think that, in general, the track has gotten wider and racier each time we’ve come back. It’s got less grip, but that’s fine. I’d rather slide around a little bit and be in charge of my racecar than be stuck to the racetrack.”