KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – If there truly are races Ryan Newman circles on his calendar at the beginning of each season as races where he and his No. 39 Aspen Dental team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) should be the class of the field, there’s no doubt one of those is this weekend.
After all, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon has been the site of three (September 2002 and 2005 and July 2010) of Newman’s 16 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins and six of the Aspen Dental driver’s 49 career poles.
In fact, New Hampshire was the site of Newman’s first points-paying Sprint Cup victory during his rookie season in 2002. On that September afternoon, the South Bend, Ind., native started from the pole and dominated the rain-shortened race, leading 143 of 207 laps.
The second victory came three years later in September 2005. Newman, who had narrowly squeaked into the inaugural Chase for the Championship, used pit strategy to gain the lead late in the race after starting 13th.
In the closing laps, he dueled with now-team owner and teammate Tony Stewart for the lead. Newman passed Stewart with two laps remaining and held on to take the win, renewing Newman’s hopes for a run at the championship.
Then, in July 2011, Newman went wire to wire – driving from his No. 1 starting spot to victory lane. Late in that July race, crew chief Tony Gibson made a gutsy call to keep Newman’s superfast No. 39 SHR Chevrolet out front rather than pit under caution.
Only once during the 301-lap race did Gibson call for a four-tire change. In the end, after Newman pitted for the final time on lap 217, Gibson spent the final 84 laps urging his driver to save fuel at every opportunity.
The bold call paid off and landed Newman in victory lane for the first time in 47 races. Newman led six times for 119 laps in winning from the pole position for just the fourth time in his career.
And the win was all part of a banner weekend for SHR. Newman and Stewart, now his teammate and team owner, started 1-2 and finished 1-2. The last time a team started 1-2 and finished 1-2 was Hendrick Motorsports in the 1989 Daytona 500.
However, the last time a team started 1-2 and finished 1-2 with the same drivers in the same order was back on April 7, 1957, at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway, where DePaolo Engineering’s Fireball Roberts won from the pole while teammate Paul Goldsmith started second and finished second.
So, it makes sense that Newman would circle New Hampshire on his calendar each year. The 1.058-mile flat track commonly known as “The Magic Mile” has been the site of some magical moments and a lot of smiles in Newman’s 11-year Sprint Cup Series career.
And Newman and his No. 39 Aspen Dental Racing team hope to generate some more magic as they roll into New Hampshire for this Sunday’s Sylvania 300.
There would be no better time to be smiling and showing off those pearly whites than in victory lane with Aspen Dental. The network of full-service dental practices providing quality, affordable care in 22 states is primary sponsor on the No. 39 Chevy for its second race of the season.
Despite failing to make this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, Newman and his team have been on a roll. In the last 10 races, Newman has finished 11th or better eight times.
And after a fifth-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., last weekend, Newman & Company are eager to continue building on that momentum and make a run for 13th place in the season-ending points – the best position for a non-Chase driver – in the final nine races of the season.
For Newman, coming “home” to New Hampshire always brings back great memories and big smiles thanks to his previous successes at the track. This weekend, a trip to victory lane in the No. 39 Aspen Dental Chevrolet would be just the ticket to add more memories and more big smiles as he and the team continue their quest to be “Best of the Rest.”
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Aspen Dental Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You talked last week about wanting to get up to 13th in points and wanting to finish the season as the best non-Chase driver. You finished fifth at Chicago, so you took your first step in that direction. Can you get to that 13th spot in points? “We still have some ground to make up on Kyle Busch, but I was really proud of our team’s determination and effort to get that fifth-place finish at Chicago.
We’re going to New Hampshire this weekend, and this is really our place to shine. Statistically, I’ve run well there on Fridays and Sundays and I would like to do that again. It would be great to get my first pole of the season Friday and get another win Sunday. I’d like to be that non-Chase driver who shakes it up a bit.
And it would be cool to get a win with Aspen Dental. We feature ‘Smile Stories’ on our car each race, which are great reviews from satisfied Aspen Dental patients – the patient on the car this weekend is a New Hampshire resident. It would be cool to have our own ‘Smile Story’ about victory lane.”
You have six poles and three wins at New Hampshire. What makes you so good at New Hampshire? “That’s actually kind of funny because I used to say New Hampshire was my least favorite racetrack. But it’s far from that now. It’s still not my favorite racetrack, but I really look forward to going back there each year.
New Hampshire has always been a good place for me. I’m not 100 percent sure why. It’s the place I got my first win and, when I hadn’t won in a long while, 70-some races, I won again there. Last July, we were able to qualify and finish 1-2 at Stewart-Haas. So, I really look forward to it, obviously. For whatever reason, and I still don’t know the answer as to why, I enjoy Loudon.
I think, for me and Tony (Stewart) both, things click at New Hampshire. I like the track because I think you have to feel the tires and be on the edge. I think Stewart might have a similar answer. It kind of reminds us of our old IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park) days. New Hampshire kind of drives like that kind of track where your car is on top of the racetrack and you get everything you can.
There is nothing to really make it go any faster. It’s not like you are pushing the car on the banking to make it grip better. There’s none of that really to speak of here, I think, other than just a little bit of our past, a little bit of our time, and a little bit of us as far as the way we drive racecars.”
That’s odd to hear someone who has done so well at a track say that it was his least favorite. What do you mean? “Loudon has just always been a difficult track to pass on. And, from a racecar driver’s standpoint, you want to go out there and say that, if I have a good car, I can go out there and start last and win this race.
And you can’t always do that there. That’s just a rule of thumb and generic explanation for why it’s not perfect. Other than that, it’s short-track racing. It’s fun but it’s really difficult to pass, at times, there. It all depends on the tire they bring and how good your car is.
To me, personally, I feel like I’m competitive as a driver at all the tracks but, obviously, it takes a good crew that understands the car and the track and strategy and everything else. We’ve just done well there. It’s clicked.”
Talk about last year’s sweep at Loudon for Stewart-Haas Racing? “It was awesome for us there last year. To have the 1-2 start and 1-2 finish, that was awesome. New Hampshire was huge for our team and even bigger for our organization. I don’t know that I realized how big until the next day when I was doing interviews and someone told me the stat about the last time a team started 1-2 and finished in those exact positions.
As much as I study the history of this sport, I was stunned by that stat and was really honored that I was part of something so big. We made that race ours. All the guys came together and made it happen. And I’m just really proud of what we accomplished. Then, for him to ‘Tony it up’ and win the fall race was amazing.
I wish we could have backed it up and finished at least second in the fall race but, all-in-all, it was a great track for us. We know we aren’t guaranteed to walk in there and win each race but, at the same time, I think we were all disappointed one of us didn’t come out of there with a win in July. But we’ll do what we can to change that this time around. There is no reason we can't."
What are the keys to running so well at Loudon? “I think the track is the key when it comes to being aggressive and patient all at the same time. There is a different style of driving that you have to have there. You can’t really be overaggressive at that racetrack. It’s kind of a combination of patience and aggressiveness.
You want to take what the car will give you because the track is flat. With banking, the faster you go, the more it pushes the car down into the racetrack. We don’t have that there, so it’s just a matter of feeling that razor-blade-edge of grip and getting everything you can and I’ve been successful at it there.
It’s kind of clicked with me since the beginning. I really like the racetrack and obviously know how to drive it, which is a big part of it. It’s a good place to start up front because it’s a short race, and it’s not the easiest place to pass.”
Source: Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR)