KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 8, 2013) – Entering this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway 12th in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup standings, the chances of Ryan Newman making a run for the championship over the final six races of the season could, at best, be considered a long shot.
Newman entered Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City seventh in the standings, 48 points behind series leader Matt Kenseth. But, an accident not of his own making sent him to the garage for lengthy repairs and eventually to a disappointing 35th-place finish. Newman lost five spots in the standings and is now 73 points behind Kenseth.
This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Saturday night’s 500-miler. It was at the 1.5-mile speedway where Newman first made a big splash. He’s optimistic the track can be a bright spot once again for his No. 39 Quicken Loans Racing team.
In just his third Sprint Cup start while running a partial schedule in 2001, Newman shocked the field with an ultra-fast qualifying lap at Charlotte, which earned him the pole position for that year’s Coca-Cola 600. That feat tied Newman with his SHR teammate Mark Martin for earliest career Sprint Cup pole.
The following season, Newman again stunned his competitors when he claimed victory in the 2002 NASCAR All-Star Race in his rookie season. The win was Newman’s first in the Sprint Cup Series, and he won the non-points race in dramatic fashion. On that night, Newman wasn’t even qualified to race in the main event at the start of the night but raced his way in by winning what is now known as the Sprint Showdown. In the main event, Newman beat Dale Earnhardt Jr., to the finish by .158 of a second to become only the second rookie to win the All-Star Race.
Since that first start at Charlotte back in 2001 when he grabbed the top spot on the starting grid, the South Bend, Ind., native has continued to rack up pole positions at the track. He now has nine poles to his credit at Charlotte – the most of any active Sprint Cup driver. In fact, he is second in all-time poles at the 1.5-mile oval behind the legendary David Pearson, who had 14.
And while he has not recorded a points-paying Sprint Cup win at the racetrack, he does have two wins in addition to his All-Star Race feat – an ARCA victory in 2000 and a NASCAR Nationwide Series victory in 2005.
Newman may no longer be considered a threat by many to win the championship this year, but he can’t be counted out as a threat to finish the season on a high note by bringing home a win or two. After all, he’s scored victories at half the tracks remaining on the schedule – one apiece at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and at Phoenix International Raceway. And Newman has proven he knows what it takes to get around Charlotte, despite the fact that a win in a points-paying Sprint Cup race has so far escaped him. Perhaps this is the weekend where he’ll finally be able to “Bring it Home.”
That was a pretty big hit for you in the championship battle at Kansas Sunday. Do you feel like you probably need something pretty big to happen here in the next few weeks?
“You look at it, and Matt Kenseth essentially has to have two bad races for us to be back in it. But, what are the odds of Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the guys up front having two bad races? At the same time, we would have to be perfect for those two races. That would have to be the scenario for us to realistically be back in the hunt. We strive for perfection week in and week out. That’s the goal. We’ll see what we can put together. There are still six races to go.”
Is there a comfort factor in racing at Charlotte this weekend after a weekend like you just had?
“We’re hitting ‘Control+Alt+Delete’ this weekend, that’s for sure. We needed it after the weekend we had at Kansas. We had to go out there early and spend a day testing, then wound up being the victim of someone else’s circumstance a third of the way through the race. So, I don’t think it’s the fact that we’re heading to Charlotte so much as it’s just getting that behind us and moving forward. That car is now gone, it was a really good car for us. It was the same racecar we finished fifth with at Atlanta a few weeks back. But, we’ve got to look forward.”
You have nine poles at Charlotte. You are first among active drivers in pole positions at the track, and second behind David Pearson, who has 14. What makes you so good at qualifying at Charlotte, and what does it mean for you to win the pole there?
“In general, I like this racetrack, I like the speed, I like the banking. When I first came here with Buddy Baker, we drove around in a rental car and, after one lap, I told him I was going to like this place. I always have. It’s a place I like. I’ve been fortunate to have good equipment and I’ve been able to take that good equipment and make it fast. It’s just a combination of team effort and, nine times out of 22, we’ve been able to pull it off (winning the pole). Ultimately, it’s what we all strive for – to be the fastest, to be the best, to be the quickest and get to victory lane. It would mean a lot to me. I think David Pearson was an excellent racecar driver. Still is. Ultimately, it is just a number but, to be where I am and have a shot at it, that’s cool. But I’m still a long way away. It took me this long to get nine. Not that it took me that long, but it’s not easy to win one, and five more is not going to be easy at all. But I know that, when we go to Charlotte, we know we want to have what it takes to have a shot at the pole. I really enjoy the racetrack – the speed, obviously, and the banking. I’ve always said I really enjoy banked racetracks and this is one of the best and fastest banked racetracks out there. I’ve had fast racecars with Penske Racing and now with Stewart-Haas Racing and just have been blessed with fast racecars. I couldn’t do it without fast racecars. I’ve always told my crew chief, whoever it is at the time, ‘If you give me a straight arrow, I’ll shoot it straight. But don’t expect me to shoot a crooked arrow to the pole.’ And they’ve done a very good job for me.”
You have nines poles at Charlotte, but you haven’t been able to turn those poles into wins. Why not? What would a win at Charlotte mean to you?
“Honestly, every time I’ve won the pole there, that seems to be a question that comes up. I just don’t know the answer. I’ve had really good racecars there. I’ve had really bad racecars. I’ve had good racecars that have gone bad and bad racecars that have gone good, but I’ve just never been the one to cross the start-finish line first. I won the All-Star Race in 2002, and I’ve been fairly close to winning at Charlotte in a points race before. I’ve had some fast racecars at Charlotte and, at the end of the race, I’ve just fallen short. For me, my All-Star Race win at Charlotte during my rookie season in 2002 was really special because that was the race we weren’t expected to win. I was a rookie. We weren’t even in the race to begin with, but we raced our way in that night. And we beat everybody at the home field on a given night and we did it because of the pride and the money, not because of the points, and there’s a lot to be said about that. So, to me, a win at Charlotte would mean the world.”