Ready to Fire His Engine
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Feb. 14, 2012) – When the month of February appears on the calendar, Ryan Newman can’t help but feel a tingle of excitement in his spine. Perhaps it’s the anticipation, or maybe it’s his enthusiasm for what lies ahead because, for Newman, the month of February has always been synonymous with one thing – racing season.
For Newman, there’s nothing like climbing behind the wheel of his No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet and feeling the rumble of the 850-horsepower engine underneath its hood.
It’s Newman’s love of automobiles and engines – what he calls the heart of the racecar – that led him to his career as a racecar driver.
His love of engines and racing came naturally.
Newman’s father Greg had wanted to be a racecar driver, but that dream ended early. So, when young Ryan was born, his father declared in the delivery room that his son would one day be the racecar driver he had never been.
And so, it was only natural that his father would share his love of racing, cars and engines with his son.
Whether in his father’s auto body shop or in their home garage, or even during their trips to Daytona for the NASCAR races, Newman grew up around cars and engines. He always had grease under his fingernails, as he learned how to change oil, rotate tires and even pull and clean an engine.
As a youngster growing up in South Bend, Ind., the winters were brutally cold. But despite the freezing temperatures and bone-chilling winds, Newman and his dad spent their nights working on racecars in their garage.
When it would get too cold and the two needed to warm up, they would fire up the Silver Crown car in the garage. Since Silver Crown cars run on methanol, the two could only run it for just a little bit before their eyes would start to burn and they would have to crack the doors.
But listening to the engine roar and smelling the methanol burn were moments Newman treasures. Those were things they did just for fun back then.
This weekend, the 10-year Sprint Cup veteran hopes his February fun is a trip to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway’s victory lane for his No. 39 WIX Filters team.
Newman has tasted victory at Daytona and celebrated in the sport’s most famous victory lane on three different occasions.
Before joining the full-time ranks of the Sprint Cup Series, Newman earned his first win at Daytona in the ARCA Series in 2001. In his first-ever outing at the high-banked superspeedway, Newman started 11th and led the final 12 laps of the 80-lap event to win by more than two-tenths of a second.
Three years later, in 2004, Newman scored his only IROC Series victory at Daytona.
And then, four years ago, Newman celebrated the greatest moment of his racing career at the historic 2.5-mile oval. On that February 2008 evening, Newman achieved a lifelong dream when he stole the lead on the backstretch on the final lap of the season-opening race. He never looked back, winning the 50th Running of the Daytona 500.
While Newman has never claimed a win in the non-points Budweiser Shootout, he has three top-five finishes in nine starts. Last season, he came within one turn of claiming his first Shootout victory. Newman led 12 of the race’s final 13 laps but, coming off turn four of the 2.5-mile oval on the final lap, his challengers used slingshot moves to scoot around him, relegating him to a third-place finish.
This weekend, Newman will pilot the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevy, which features the “We love engines” tagline on the car’s TV panel. In three starts behind the wheel of the gold-and-black car, Newman has three top-10 finishes – a sixth-place effort at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in August 2010, a third-place finish in last season’s Budweiser Shootout, and a fifth-place effort at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn in August 2011.
Newman is ready to fire his engine and kick off his 11th season in the Sprint Cup Series with a win on Saturday night. With a strong engine underneath the hood, a solid-handling racecar and an impressive performance by his pit crew, Newman hopes to continue his success with WIX Filters and get another win at Daytona.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
As an organization, Stewart-Haas Racing enters Daytona for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opener as the defending champion. How encouraged are you going into a new season with that knowledge?
“After Homestead, it took me until that night at the banquet to actually feel like I was part of a championship team. Just my mindset and the way my mind works, being the competitive driver that I am, I still felt beat. Not until then did I feel like it actually hit me – I think I was going in the elevator – that I was part of a championship team. That’s just my mentality. You can fault me for it, if you want. But that’s my competitive drive. Now, I’m part of a championship team, but I still know we – the No. 39 team – got beat, and we need to fix those things that beat us or we failed internally to be better. We have the knowledge that we’re capable of winning a championship. We did last year. We didn’t and they did, which is still rewarding. But, from the No. 39 team’s standpoint, we have to fix what we did wrong.”
“Going into Daytona Speedweeks with that championship banner is awesome to see what we did as an organization. But, at the same time, I’m the protective guy in the back saying, ‘Man, we can’t get caught surprised here at Daytona thinking we’re awesome and did all these great things and nobody’s going to beat us again,’ because that’s not the case. Those guys we beat from an organizational standpoint are fired up and mad and they’ve been working really hard. So it’s our responsibility to do that and more. I don’t want to be the headlines of, ‘What happened to Stewart-Haas? Why did they flop?’ And I don’t think it’s going to happen, but that’s the way my mind works and I’m confident this team will do everything in its power to make sure that’s not the case.”
You were at the Daytona test in January but you were pretty sick and ended up leaving early. Will being in the Budweiser Shootout help your team since you didn’t get a lot of information from the test?
“That was probably the sickest I’ve been in 20 years and that was really rough. I think I did five runs and we ran all day Friday. We got some good information even though I was sick. NASCAR was making a lot of changes, so we’ll see how much the information helps when we get back down there. But for us, it was an important test just to be able to get reunited and get back in the swing of things and make sure we know what we need to do when we come back there.
“To me, the Budweiser Shootout is a valuable race because of the extra seat time we get. I’ve been in it and I’ve had to sit out of it, and I definitely think there is value from being part of it. We get a couple of more practices and, of course, we have the race. We can learn a lot in those few hours as a team that could be really important to us the rest of the week and even during the 500 the following Sunday. I know my crew chief Tony Gibson will be taking a lot of notes about what works and what doesn’t so we are on top of our game for the Daytona 500. I guess you could say being in the Shootout is a nice bonus. It’s a fun race. The shorter races always lead to a lot of fireworks, so it should be a cool night.”
Last year, you led 18 laps in the Budweiser Shootout, including 12 of the last 13. You were leading coming off the final turn, but your fellow competitors used a slingshot move to pass you in the end. Do you feel like one got away?
“I knew I was a sitting duck at the end of that race. I didn’t know what to expect, other than the fact that I knew it was going to happen off of (turn) four. I didn’t know if Denny Hamlin was going to go high or low, and I didn’t know if I was going the right way, pointed in the right direction that the No. 22 (Kurt Busch) and the No.1 (Jamie McMurray) were going to go. It’s a unique race and I’m glad we got back to the finish line in the way we did. That was the least-scratched car we’ve ever had at a superspeedway in my history at Stewart-Haas Racing. It was a wild finish – I just wish we would have been able to get the win. Afterward, I said it was the most unexpected race ever for me with how everything worked out.
“As for this year, I’m not sure any of us know what to expect. NASCAR did a lot with the rules at the test so it wouldn’t be just two-car drafts, but I think it will probably be a two-car breakaway that wins the race. I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the Shootout so we can prepare for the Gatorade Duels and the Daytona 500.”
Your team has endured a lot of bad luck at Daytona since you joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. You mentioned that your third-place finish in the Shootout last year was the least scratched-up racecar you had had at Daytona since joining SHR. But then, in the Daytona 500, you led the most laps and, with a handful of laps to go, you got shuffled out of the lead and were involved in an accident. How important is it for you to turn that luck around and start off this year on a high note?
“There’s a lot of emphasis on Speedweeks. Everybody brings their A-game. Everybody wants to get off to a good start but, ultimately, you control only a part of it and racing luck controls the other part of it. And Daytona is a tough place. It always has been. And, honestly, I think our last three years have been bad luck in the way our season has started. Last year, we finished third in the Budweiser Shootout and then we had the strongest car I have ever had at Daytona. We led the most laps and we were definitely one of the front-runners to win with just a few laps left. But we got shuffled back and ended up in a wreck. It was the same thing in 2010 – we got involved in a wreck. And, the year before, we got involved in multiple wrecks before the 500 ever started and we were on our third racecar by the time we took the green flag for the 500. So, all three years, we’ve started further back in points than we wanted and we have had to dig ourselves out of that hole. We’ve been able to make the Chase two of the three years. So, I guess you never know what’s going to happen. That’s why we all enjoy NASCAR Sprint Cup racing and, hopefully, it’s a good start to the season for us this year.”