KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Not since 2008, when Ryan Newman won the 50th running of the Daytona 500, has the South Bend, Ind., native started out a season so strong.
Only twice in his 12 full seasons of Sprint Cup competition has Newman started out stronger – in 2006, when he finished third in the season-opening event, and in 2008. For Newman and the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS team, hopes are high that coming out of the box strong will be a sign of things to come.
The combination of Newman and crew chief Matt Borland, who reunited for the final four races of 2012, when they earned two top-five and four top-12 finishes, is clearly firing on all cylinders as it continued the trend of strong performances last weekend. Heading to Phoenix – the strongest track on the tour for Newman over the past two-and-a-half seasons –the 35-year-old driver is looking to again contend for the win.
In his last six starts at Phoenix, Newman has five top-five finishes, including a win in April 2010 and a runner-up finish in November 2010. His only finish outside the top-five came in this race one year ago, where Newman was involved in an accident while running fifth. He placed 21st.
While Newman wants to build on the momentum of his strong Daytona 500 run by scoring another top- five at Phoenix, it’s race fans who will be pushing Newman to “Bring It Home,” thanks to Quicken Loans’ sweepstakes, which got off to a quick start last week.
Newman’s fifth-place finish at Daytona helped kick off the promotion, which pays five people’s mortgages for a month each time Newman finishes among the top-five in a Sprint Cup race.
Another strong finish early in the season would give both Newman and his fans something to cheer about. Specifically, a top-five finish at Phoenix would help keep Newman near the top of the point standings, and it would mean five more mortgages paid for a month.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Your track record at Phoenix International Raceway really speaks for itself. Talk about racing at Phoenix. “I like Phoenix, I like the racetrack, it’s challenging. It’s a place I’ve raced at for the last 17 years. I’ve got quite a bit of experience at Phoenix. I’ve raced a lot of laps there. It’s a challenging racetrack and, for that reason, it’s a lot of fun. It’s unique and totally different on both ends of the racetrack, so it’s almost like two racetracks in one. It’s definitely a driver’s racetrack. The driver really has to drive and hustle the car a little bit and still be smooth. It’s those aspects that make the track a lot of fun to me.”
Even though the track was recently repaved and reconfigured, it seems like you haven’t missed a beat. “They repaved and reconfigured the track in 2011, but 90 percent of the track really didn’t change. It was just the back straightaway that changed. It doesn’t really effect the racing that much, but it has the potential to be somewhat of a crash zone, now.”
You have one race under your belt with NASCAR’s sixth-generation (Gen-6) Sprint Cup car. Do you anticipate the racing at Phoenix to be different now with this new Gen-6 car? “From a driver’s standpoint, the way we drive these new cars is still the same as it was with the old cars. Speaking characteristically, Chevrolet has done a great job with the SS. It has character, it has some body lines that are awesome, and we didn’t have that 10 years ago. We had cars that were pretty similar. They had some different character lines but they were pretty similar. The physics are all the same in what we do and how we approach it from a mechanical standpoint, but the tires have changed a good bit. But, from an entertainment standpoint, we put on the same type of show, doing what we do as far as passing and racing side by side.”