It Takes the ‘Right’ Stuff at Sonoma
With back-to-back top-10 finishes, Ryan Newman and his No. 39 Haas Automation team look to be headed back in the “right” direction in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship point standings.
And there’s no better time to be on the “right” track than now, as Newman readies to try his hand at turning both right and left in the first road-course race of the season at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.
While Newman has never won a road-course race in Sprint Cup competition, the 10-year veteran is certainly up to the challenge.
The physical demands and challenges of hustling the racecar around the race course and turning both right and left is something Newman thrives on. There’s nothing he loves more than manhandling his racing machine as he climbs up the hills and dives through the valleys and around the corners of the Sonoma road course.
Newman’s prowess at muscling a car around a track came from his early years in open-wheel racing on tracks throughout the country. Those reflexes and the ability to adapt instantaneously to changes on the track are skills Newman has successfully translated to his NASCAR driving and are never more necessary than on the challenging Infineon Raceway.
In nine starts at the 1.99-mile road course, Newman has two top-five and five top-10 finishes. He has completed every lap (995) since his rookie campaign in 2002, and even has a runner-up finish there (2006).
In his last two races at Infineon with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Newman hasn’t fared quite as well, posting 16th- and 17th-place efforts. However, the team’s solid performance at a recent test at Virginia International Raceway in Alton have Newman and his team looking forward to the 11-turn race course located in California’s Wine Country.
After a ninth-place finish at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and a sixth-place effort at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn the past two weekends, Newman currently sits eighth in points. It’s only the fourth time in his 10-year Sprint Cup career that he has been in the top-10 in points after 15 races.
Now, with 11 races to go until the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship field is set, Newman and Company know it’s imperative for the team to continue its upward climb in the point standings and contend for wins at each and every race.
To keep his No. 39 SHR team moving in the “right” direction in the standings, Newman will draw upon all his skills to make the “right” – and left – moves this weekend at Sonoma. A win on a road course would be an impressive statistic on his resume and, time-after-time, Newman has proven he has the “right” stuff to do just that.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Can you talk about the characteristics of road course racing?
“I’ve always said it’s much more physical going to the road courses inside the racecar and I guess at times much more risk of having that driver control and not getting out of control and getting off the racetrack. At a track like Michigan, you get off the racetrack and you’re in the fence. There, you get off the racetrack and you’re in sand or you’re in the sticks, I guess you could say and that can totally change your day. Something as simple as getting a tire off course in qualifying can change your entire weekend. I look forward to going out to Sonoma. I love the challenge, I love the road course. To me, there are two good passing zones and 11 corners so you’re falling behind on the guy in front of the guy in front of you in nine of the 11 if you don’t get around the guy in front of you. You know what I mean? I like it, it’s fun to hustle the race cars. That’s what really as drivers we like.”
This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to its first road-course race of the season. What are your thoughts on Infineon Raceway and road-course racing?
“It’s the first time we get to run a road course and, typically, there’s a different type of cream that rises to the top there. I enjoy it. I enjoy hustling the racecar around the track, and Infineon’s a good road course. Personally, I enjoy Watkins Glen a bit more, but I enjoy them both and I look forward to racing out there. It’s a big track-position race, and fuel mileage has become a big part of the racing there. But it’s the same for everybody. In road-course racing, the driver, in my mind, can make up more than he can at an oval just being able to hustle a car. You have the added mannerism, I guess you could say, of braking. When you brake at short tracks, it’s not the same as when you brake and downshift. So, you have to be a smooth downshifter, you have to be a good braker. Obviously, you have to turn right. There are extra characteristics, I guess, that you have to include at road courses that you don’t have to include at ovals. That separates the men from the boys, typically.
“I have always enjoyed road racing. I have really enjoyed hustling the car around the racetrack. I think it’s a lot of fun in Sonoma and at Watkins Glen. We’ve had great races at Sonoma but it seems to typically come down to fuel mileage, which is a little bit crazy and not the best way to race, in my opinion. From a driver’s standpoint, you just want to hustle the car as hard as you can and not have to worry about shutting the car off during yellow flags to be able to save fuel. That is just not as much a fun type of racing. But it is what it is and I look forward to it. We had a really good test. We went to VIR (Virginia International Raceway in Alton) back in May, and the car felt really, really good.”
Do you approach a road-course race differently than other races on the circuit? How is a road-course race different for the driver?
“Not really. Once we get there, we attack it and do our thing like we do any other race weekend. Road-course racing is physically demanding, and mentally, as well. It’s really a lot of fun to hustle the car around the racetrack. It’s definitely challenging, just doing what you can to save fuel on a road course, which is one of the hardest things you can ever do inside a racecar, in my opinion. It’s a big track-position game and, if you qualify well, you have a chance to race well. If you don’t, your challenge will be to make a bunch of passes and race hard all day.”