“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” – Dr. Seuss
For each of us, every day is a learning experience. From the moment one wakes up until it is time to sleep, once again, there are moments of growth and understanding that we didn’t have before. So, in turn, at the end of each day, each of us enjoys a “graduation” of sorts.
The same theory can be applied to everything each of us does. For instance, on the racetrack, Ryan Newman and his No. 39 Haas Automation team “graduate” from one race to the next for 26 race weekends until they qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. And then the goal becomes to “graduate” to a championship contender and earn the ultimate degree – the Sprint Cup championship.
To successfully move from one racetrack to the next and eventually earn a berth in the Chase, Newman and his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team must learn from each challenge they face every weekend. They must take their lessons and apply them to the next event. It’s a cycle of learning, growing, evolving and, yes, “graduating.”
This weekend, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway for the 5-Hour Energy 500, Newman’s crew chief Tony Gibson will be part of another important event – the high school graduation of his only child, daughter Lainee, from Mount Pleasant High School in Concord, N.C.
Gibson will lead his driver through two practices on Friday afternoon at Pocono in hopes of gaining some knowledge for qualifying and Sunday’s 200-lap event. With the help of his driver, Gibson will fly home following the practice sessions for his daughter’s graduation before returning to the racetrack in time for Saturday’s qualifying session.
For Newman, it seems appropriate that this weekend marks the high school graduation of Gibson’s daughter. After all, the “Tricky Triangle,” as Pocono Raceway is known, could be considered the track that helped him “graduate” and launch his career to the upper echelon of stock car racing and the Sprint Cup Series.
Pocono Raceway was the site of Newman’s first-ever stock car victory on July 22, 2000. He scored the win in just his second start for Penske Racing in the ARCA Series. The South Bend, Ind., native started on the outside pole, led 40 of the 80 laps and scored a dominating victory.
Now, nearly 11 years after that very first stock car win at Pocono, Newman & Company are currently 10th in Sprint Cup points, 103 behind leader Carl Edwards. While the team had a quick start to the 2011 season with three fifth-place finishes and four top-10s in the season’s first five races, the No. 39 team’s fortunes haven’t been quite as impressive in recent weeks. In the last eight races, Newman has scored just one top-10 – another fifth-place finish at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
In 18 starts at Pocono, Newman has one win, two poles, six top-five finishes and seven top-10s. He has never finished outside the top-14 since joining SHR in 2009, and has one top-five finish at the 2.5-mile triangle with his No. 39 team.
Newman & Company hopes it can help its crew chief celebrate the pomp and circumstance of his daughter’s high school graduation this weekend with its own celebration in Pocono’s victory lane. He has graduated to the top of the leaderboard at Pocono, before, and a win this weekend would not only serve as proof the team is growing, learning and evolving. It would earn “extra credit” in the form of a valuable bonus point for a win for when “graduation” to the Chase is held in September at Richmond.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
It seems as if drivers either love or hate Pocono Raceway because it is so difficult. What are your thoughts on the “Tricky Triangle?”
“It’s one of my favorite racetracks just because it is so difficult. It’s really fun to drive. I like it because it’s challenging. Each corner is different – different radius, different banking, different bumps. Each straightaway is a different length. It just seems like it’s a driver’s racetrack and a crew chief’s racetrack because he has to get the car to the driver’s liking in all three corners. NASCAR’s done a little bit of a soft pitch to us this year with the changing of the transmission ratios, so we will actually shift like we used to. Going back the last couple of years, we weren’t allowed to shift. And then, in the old-style racecar, we could. It adds a different twist to it for the drivers and for the crew chiefs to get the ratios right, to get the car handling when you are shifting and when you’re not. It changes the way we drive and the way we set up the racecars a little bit. It’s fun to have unique situations and unique racetracks. We look forward to going to Pocono each and every time.”
I always loved stock car racing.
Can you explain what you mean when you say that Pocono is challenging?
“Pocono is about as complex as the road courses are. Road courses, you get a lot of different turns and straightaways. You can easily package that into three or four different corners the way a car drives. Pocono is very different in all three corners, so it’s very complex when it comes to setting the car up and from the driver’s standpoint. It’s all about matching up the combination of how the crew chief sets up the car relative to how the driver drives the racecar to make a happy package and have a shot at victory. Fuel mileage can also be crucial at Pocono. The bigger the racetrack, the more sensitive it is when it comes to fuel mileage. Each lap is 2.5 miles, there. Getting back to pit lane when you’re close to running out of fuel, it tends to be a place where the driver really has to manage his fuel when the crew chief asks you to save some fuel. There are a lot of great things that could happen at Pocono that we don’t really have at some other racetracks. You get to places like Pocono, Indianapolis and Michigan and fuel mileage can be as much of a crew chief’s friend as a foe.”
Pocono is where you got your first win in a stock car. Does the track hold a special significance for you because of that victory?
“My first win at Pocono wasn’t in NASCAR competition. It was in my second ARCA start, but it was so big for me and my family and everyone who had helped me in my racing career along the way. Growing up in Indiana, I always wanted to drive in NASCAR, which wasn’t heard of. Most kids in Indiana wanted to compete in the Indianapolis 500. But for me, I always loved stock car racing. So, winning at Pocono back in 2000 was bigger than I can explain. It was proving that I had made the right decision and that I was ready for the move to stock car racing. It was really a special day. There was some excitement on the final laps, some bumping, but it was a big win for me.”
This year at Pocono Raceway, we also have a different schedule with qualifying on Saturday. We have done this at several tracks, now. What are your thoughts on that kind of schedule?
“It does put a lot of pressure on a driver and a crew chief, for that matter, to get it right for that one lap – and that’s all we run that day. I understand when people say it seems like it’s a waste of time to go there and be there for an entire day for one lap. But, on the other side for me, I enjoy the fishing in the area. So I get to go out, run my lap and then go and enjoy some time around the area. My wife’s family lives in that area, too, so we go and spend time with them. I guess there are two sides to every coin. It definitely puts a lot of pressure on a guy to get three corners right in one lap after sleeping through the night and making changes to the racecar for Saturday morning. But for me, I have 12 fishing rods, tackle boxes and a three-piece boat with a trolling motor and battery so we can go out and fish anytime we can. I really enjoy it. It’s a way for me to break away and relax and enjoy the outdoors. Pocono is a great place to go fishing, and I’m looking forward to that on Saturday.”