Phoenix: Ryan Newman preview

RYAN NEWMAN Hoping Site of First Start is The Place for Another First KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 14, 2009) - Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., is where it all began for Ryan Newman. On Nov. 5, 2000, Newman made his NASCAR Sprint...

RYAN NEWMAN
Hoping Site of First Start is The Place for Another First

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 14, 2009) - Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., is where it all began for Ryan Newman.

On Nov. 5, 2000, Newman made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Phoenix. The then-22-year-old driver had already impressed in the open-wheel divisions of the United States Auto Club (USAC), collecting numerous wins and honors, as well as capturing the 1999 Silver Crown championship. He had also received accolades following his stellar performance behind the wheel of an ARCA stock car in a five-race schedule that produced two poles, three wins and four top-10 finishes.

But none of it meant more to Newman than that day at Phoenix. It was the day that dreams came true for the boy who had imagined being a NASCAR driver since he was 4? years old and climbing behind the wheel of his first Quarter-Midget. Being from South Bend, Ind., stock car racing wasn't exactly popular. In Newman's home state, racing meant one thing - open-wheel cars. Little boys dreamed of competing in the Indianapolis 500. But not Newman. He always preferred his NASCAR slot cars over the Indy-style slot cars when he raced with his friends.

Newman wasted no time showing the Sprint Cup regulars his penchant for turning a quick lap as he qualified 10th in the No. 02 Penske Racing entry in his maiden effort. He went on to be competitive during the race, too, although the final results show a 41st-place finish due to an engine failure.

Fast forward nine years later. In 267 Sprint Cup starts, Newman has collected 43 pole positions and 13 wins. He returns to Phoenix this weekend with his new Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team and the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS, along with a new dream that Newman hopes to turn into reality.

In his first seven races with SHR, Newman and the No. 39 team have posted two top-10 finishes and missed claiming the pole position at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway by one-thousandth of a second. Most importantly, the team has improved each and every week.

Heading into Phoenix, Newman and his team want more. The driver, who was given the nickname "Rocketman" because of his ability to win poles, has a track-record four of them at Phoenix, including one last spring. That was the last time Newman took the top spot, and he is ready to add another pole position to the record book. Newman wants to put his No. 39 on top of the board for SHR's first pole. In addition, Newman is still looking for his first top-five finish and, ultimately, his first win with SHR.

History shows that Newman knows what dreams are made of, and Phoenix was part of that dream. As he wheels his No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet around the 1-mile oval during this weekend's Subway Fresh Fit 500k, Newman hopes that Phoenix will once again be the place where dreams come true.

RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

Talk about your season so far, and what has meant the most to you since joining Stewart-Haas Racing?

"It's been an interesting ride. When we started out the season, I made it very clear that I believed this team had the pieces and the personnel to make the Chase - and that belief has not changed. We had some issues those first few races - some bad luck and some things that I think may have been self-inflicted, but then we hit our stride at Bristol. We had two top-10 finishes at Bristol and Martinsville. Then we just battled all day at Texas and we were able to come out of there with a 15th-place finish, which is not the finish that I wanted, but we didn't give up. I was a little frustrated after the race, but Tony Gibson (crew chief) said something and it made me think. He said that it was days like that when we can take a 30th-place car and run 15th, where we battle all day and don't give up - that's a sign of a strong team. And I think that is a great way to describe this No. 39 team. A lot of the guys on this team have been together for years, and I'm the new guy. They have been through a lot together, and I have been so impressed with how they have persevered.

"To me, this team's never-give-up attitude has been one of the most impressive things for me about Stewart-Haas Racing. The first four races were really tough, but I learned a lot from those races and how the team reacted to what we faced. The guys have done a good job keeping their chins up and staying focused and doing their jobs and fixing the problems that we've had. They've done a very good job of overcoming adversity, and I am so proud of what we have accomplished. I look forward to every weekend at the track with them."

How do you feel about your chances going into Phoenix this weekend?

"Phoenix is a very unique track because the ends are so different and it has a crook there in the backstretch. The design of the racetrack makes it fun and challenging to drive. We ran really well at both short tracks earlier this season, and you run Phoenix with a short-track package and a short-track mentality, so that makes me think that our No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet should have a good weekend.

"Phoenix is a special track to me. It's where I started my Sprint Cup career. It's the first track I raced on in NASCAR so, it's an important place. I've had some good runs at Phoenix, but I just haven't been able to get a victory there. I've come close with a second-place and a third-place, but close isn't winning. I'm looking forward to my first start at Phoenix with Stewart-Haas Racing."

Last spring at Phoenix, you won the pole. It was your fourth pole at the track, which is the track record. However, you haven't had a pole since that time. What would it mean for you to win the pole this weekend at Phoenix in the No. 39 car?

"I want to win the pole at every racetrack we go to. Each weekend, there are a couple of different races leading up to the big race - there's the race to be the fastest in each practice, and there's the race to be the best in qualifying. I'm not the only guy out there who wants to be on top of that board after every practice session and every qualifying session and every race. That's our competitive nature.

"I am fully aware that my last pole came at Phoenix last spring. I guess you could say it's been a long dry spell, and the competitor in me is ready to end that dry spell. We came pretty close during Daytona 500 qualifying, and even closer at Bristol. We were one-thousandth of a second off the pole speed - that's not even an inch. Winning the pole at Phoenix for the 39 team and Stewart-Haas Racing would be really special for me. It would be the first pole for SHR and that's a goal that I set for myself back at the start of the season. I want to win the first pole for SHR. It doesn't matter to me where it happens, but I want to win the pole. I know that Tony Gibson and the guys are working hard to get me the car that can win the pole - and believe me, if I have a chance to win the pole this weekend, I don't plan on leaving anything out on the track."

TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

The No. 39 team turned in solid finishes at two short tracks just a couple of weeks ago - a seventh at Bristol Motor Speedway and a sixth at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. What do you think about your chances as you head to Phoenix International Raceway this weekend?

"I think our team is pretty confident heading into Phoenix. Most of the guys on this team came with me from the No. 8 team at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., and we had some good runs there with both Dale Earnhardt Jr., and then last year with Mark Martin. In fact, we led a lot of laps last year. We were leading with 11 laps to go and had to come in and pit for fuel, so it's a track that this group of guys feel comfortable with and are confident going to. And we know that Ryan has had some good runs there, too.

"For us, Phoenix has a lot of similarities to Martinsville and the setup that we ran in the 39 car there. You carry more entry speed into the corners at Phoenix, but it is more-or-less a short-track package. We had a really strong car at Martinsville. Who knows what the outcome would have been had we been able to qualify instead of having to start 27th because of the rainout. Ryan did a heck of a job driving through the field, but I would've liked to see what we could've done if we would've started closer to the front. So we are looking forward to going to Phoenix, being able to qualify and seeing just how good the package we have really is. If we are as competitive as we were in Martinsville, I feel confident that we can come out of Phoenix with a solid top-five finish."

The No. 39 team had a rough start to the season, but the team has now had three consecutive top-15 finishes. What have you learned about this team that has impressed you?

"I'm proud of the whole company. The guys on this team and Ryan, they have never given up. And for me, personally, one of the biggest things has been seeing Ryan and Tony (Stewart) in the shop, talking to the guys, keeping them pumped up. 'Smoke' is there almost every day, and to see your owner walking through the shop and just encouraging the guys has really meant a lot to me. Being around these people who believe in you and what you are doing really helped to keep our spirits up and kept everyone from losing faith.

"We've had three good weekends, and we've made up a ton of ground in the points. Going into Bristol, I would be lying to you if I told you that I wasn't nervous. You can have a good car at Bristol and walk out of there miserable because things just happen there. But we had a good car and we were able to keep our nose clean at Bristol and at Martinsville and we made huge gains in the points.

"We were really solid at both short tracks, and then we had some issues at Texas. In the end, we salvaged a good finish, and that's what I told my guys afterward. You're going to have days like that, where you don't have a great car. We had a 30th-place car, in my opinion, but we finished 15th, and that's something to be proud of. To me, that's the sign of a strong team. The guys on pit road did a tremendous job and Ryan drove his heart out. No one gave up. They kept their head in the game. We were able to get a good finish and move up in the points. That's the sign of a solid team. I was proud of them, and I told them that they should be proud of themselves, too.

"Now, we've got to just keep going on the same path that we are on. We need to have three or four more good weeks. We need to keep focusing on getting those top-10 and top-five finishes so that we can keep moving up in the points. We're only 92 points out of the Chase right now. It's a lot of ground to make up, but there is time and it is in reach. Our guys are working hard and pouring their hearts into their work and, hopefully, it's going to pay off and we'll be sitting in the Chase when it is time to go."

Ryan has four poles at Phoenix, and it is actually the site of his last pole win. Does that make you approach qualifying any differently?

"Yeah, I know about Ryan and poles at Phoenix. Ryan actually knocked us (Gibson's former DEI team with driver Mark Martin) off the pole there last year, and we ended up starting fourth for the race. We thought that pole was ours, so I know that for me and the guys who were on the (No.) 8 team last year, we are anxious to get back to Phoenix and get that pole we wanted last year. I have said all along that one of our goals as a team was to give Ryan the cars that he needs to be able to go out there each and every week and contend for the pole like we know that he can. He got the nickname "Rocketman" for a reason, and we want to get him back to that form. We've been close a couple of times. We were second at Bristol by just one-thousandth of a second. I know that Ryan wants a pole, and I know that we want to get Ryan back out front for the drop of the green flag. Hopefully, we can do that this weekend at Phoenix."

-credit: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Ryan Newman , Mark Martin
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Team Penske