The fall race at Talladega is often referred to as the “wild-card” event in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) heads into Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway hoping that this race is already behind him.
When the series visited Kansas Speedway in Kansas City two weekends ago, Newman was one of several drivers involved in a track-record 15 cautions. While the incident Newman was involved in was not of his own making – the WIX Filters driver was running in the top-20 when he was collected by another competitor’s misfortune – the contact caused extensive right-side and rear-end damage to Newman’s machine. It led to his 35th-place finish after having completed just 188 laps of the 267 that were run. Sunday, he’ll hope to complete 188 laps, as well – just with a bit of a different ending as 188 laps is the scheduled distance at Talladega.
Newman’s championship hopes took a big hit at Kansas. He finds himself entering this weekend’s race 12th in the standings, 78 points behind series leader Matt Kenseth. The veteran driver knows that it would take serious misfortune for Kenseth and the other Chase contenders for him to get back into the hunt for the championship, and he knows that Talladega is the most likely place for such an event to occur. He also knows that if his competitors were to be involved in such an incident, he’ll need to be in position to score maximum points to capitalize on the situation.
Newman knows how to get it done at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. Case in point, he claimed the checkered flag at Talladega’s sister facility, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, in the 2008 running of the Daytona 500. And, in his first start at Talladega for SHR in April 2009, Newman recorded his best finish at the track when he crossed the finish line third.
But that third-place result wasn’t without incident as it came in dramatic fashion. Carl Edwards’ racecar flipped over Newman’s hood and windshield before slamming into the catchfence that separates the frontstretch from the grandstands as the leaders made their way to the checkered flag. Despite not being able to see through the massive front-end damage his car received during the incident, Newman was able to drive his No. 39 Chevrolet across the finish line.
Newman also has endured more than his fair share of trials and tribulations at the Alabama racetrack, having been involved in some of the most dramatic wrecks in recent Talladega history. He’s been turned end-over-end and has landed on his roof in the infield grass. He’s found himself involved in the “big one” on more than one occasion. So, it would be no surprise that, when it comes to Talladega Superspeedway, Newman may focus on the negatives rather than the positives.
Over the past few seasons, the No. 39 Chevrolet has been involved in a series of accidents that have left his racecar with everything from minimal damage to complete destruction. It seems, as of late, that wherever Newman finds himself on the racetrack, trouble doesn’t have a hard time chasing him down.
In 23 races at the largest track on the Sprint Cup circuit, he has 11 finishes of 16th or better, including four top-fives and eight top-10s. It’s the other 12 finishes that have been less than kind to Newman. Those are the results that have played a part in making his average Talladega finish 22.2, which happens to be his worst among all tracks on the current Sprint Cup schedule.
Since the Chase for the Sprint Cup began in 2004, Talladega has been known as the wild-card race of the 10-event Chase. While the championship isn’t won at Talladega, it certainly can be lost there. With Newman needing a major surge to reinvigorate his title chances, he’ll hope that his wild-card race is already behind him and that he will experience better fortune this weekend.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What does it take to have a good, clean finish at Talladega? “I wish I knew the answer to that. We’ve been on the short end of the stick at Talladega for the past few years. To be successful at Talladega, you’ve got to keep yourself in the hunt so you can be there at the end. If you have a good car, you can stay toward the front all day. If you don’t, you have to put yourself in a position that will allow you to be in the best possible position at the end. It’s as simple, or as complex, as that.”
You’ve had some bad experiences at Talladega and have been quite vocal about the racing there. So, what are your thoughts on coming to Talladega and how do you approach the weekend? “I wouldn’t say I dread going to Talladega. It’s not my favorite racetrack, but I don’t say I dread it. I love doing what I do. I love driving a racecar, even at Talladega. I think the difference is there’s more potential to get involved in something not of your making there, and that’s frustrating to me. But that’s not just me. Everyone hopes they can avoid the big crash there.
And, to be honest, when you’re up front at Talladega, it’s great. When you’re not, it can be miserable. When you’re the recipient of somebody else’s lack of judgment, then it’s not easy to talk about it. And that’s pretty much it. It’s just that there is way more potential for that than there is at most other racetracks. So, I don’t think I’m any different than anybody else. I’d love to win the race but, when I’m the recipient of somebody else’s misjudgment, that’s even more aggravating to me.”
How mentally demanding is racing at tracks like Talladega and Daytona? “Honestly, you prepare yourself from the moment you get to the track and you know that you’re going to be using your head a lot when it comes to this type of racing. It’s a high-speed chess match. You have to know what you are doing and pay attention to what the people around you are doing. But I go into the race ready for it. It’s really hard on the mind just as far as what’s going to play out, working together and really being on top of things. You have to think one step ahead. It’s definitely a different mindset. I just think you have to be ready for it.”