Ready To 'Roll the Dice' for Another Strong Run in Las Vegas
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (March 1, 2011) - Ryan Newman wouldn't necessarily call himself a gambling man.
Newman, who has a degree in vehicle structure engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., takes a more analytical, logical and methodical path in life than the popular perception of a Las Vegas casino high roller. But, perception isn't always reality.
While Newman might not consider himself a gambler, many would say that, three years ago, the South Bend, Ind., native took a giant leap of faith when he moved to the No. 39 team and Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
In the team's first season together in 2009, Newman scored two pole positions - Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway - five top-five and 15 top-10 finishes. Those are double the numbers he posted the previous year prior to joining SHR. Newman and his teammate/co-owner Tony Stewart also led the series in laps completed by running 99.8 percent of the laps in 2009 (10,468 of 10,492), and both drivers made the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Last year, Newman and his No. 39 team, with crew chief Tony Gibson at the helm, reached victory lane at Phoenix International Raceway for the first time. Interestingly enough, it was a call considered to be a gamble at the time that propelled Newman, Gibson and the team to the winner's circle. In addition to the victory, Newman earned one pole, four top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 2010. And, although Newman failed to qualify for the Chase in the team's sophomore season, it ended the season on a high note by posting finishes of 11th or better in nine of the season's final 13 races.
As Newman heads into the third race of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it appears the momentum from numerous strong finishes at the end of last season has spilled over into 2011 and just continues to build for Newman and his No. 39 Haas Automation team.
With two races in the books, Newman sits seventh in the Sprint Cup points and has been a solid contender in both races so far. Newman has posted one top-five finish - a fifth-place effort at Phoenix last weekend - and he has led laps in both of the races so far this season. In fact, Newman led the most laps (37) at Daytona International Speedway in the season-opening Daytona 500, which was a first for Newman and the No. 39 team since they joined forces in 2009.
Next up for Newman & Company is this weekend's Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas. In 10 starts at the desert track, Newman has one pole (2005), one top-five and four top-10 finishes.
For a driver with a penchant for going fast and qualifying up front, the banked, fast racetrack in the "City of Lights" is right up his alley. And with the recent successes of Newman and Gibson at the 1.5-mile tracks, it could very easily come down to another "roll of the dice" that will again put the normally regimented pair at the front of the field when the checkered flag falls.
Off to his best start in the Sprint Cup Series in three seasons, Newman and his No. 39 Haas Automation team hope that "Lady Luck" will continue to be on their side this weekend at Las Vegas.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You've had the best start this season that you have had in three years. You're sitting seventh in points heading to Las Vegas and already have one top-five finish under your belt. To what do you attribute the difference this season?
"If you look back at our last 10 or so races of 2010, we had a lot to be excited about going into this season. We strung together some pretty impressive top-five and top-10 runs, and I think we really showed we were a team that probably could have been in the Chase had things been different. It's the strongest end to a season that I had had in a long time, and I think that definitely carried over into the start of this season. We were excited about how we finished the year, and we were pumped to get started in Daytona, and it showed.
"The last two seasons, I think we've had some bad racing luck early on, and we dug ourselves a hole that we had to claw and fight to get out of. I think for us this year, it's just we have two years under our belt and we have a lot of experience - good and bad - that we've been able to build on. To be honest, everybody wants to get off to a good start but, ultimately, you control a big part of it, and racing luck controls the other part of it. We felt like we were two-and-a half-minutes away from winning the Daytona 500, and I guess our luck ran out there about four laps from the end. Tony Gibson had said he wanted to come out of Daytona with a top-20 finish. We finished 22nd, but we led the most laps, so we ended up 18th in points, so I guess it kind of evened out there for us. It wasn't the finish we wanted at Daytona, but we finished and that helped carry the momentum into Phoenix, where we won last season. So we knew we had a good opportunity there, and we wanted to capitalize on it. We led some laps again and we finished fifth. We thought we had more for them, but it was a good points day for us and we'll take that. We just need to continue getting these consistent finishes because that's what's going to make all the difference for us this season."
The No. 39 Chevrolet has been a really fast, strong car at Las Vegas each of the last two seasons. How does that, in addition to the fact that the No. 39 Chevrolet finished fifth at Phoenix, help build momentum for the team this weekend?
"It's like Tony Gibson has said several times, it's like a snowball effect. Good finishes and success will improve the confidence of everyone on the team, and that just builds momentum with each and every race. We've had really good race cars at Las Vegas both times we've been out there. The first year, we qualified sixth, and we were really fast during the whole race. Unfortunately, we had a loose wheel and that ended up costing us. But it was a race where we left feeling really positive about what we had. We came back to Las Vegas last season and we qualified third, but we had a couple of issues on pit road during the race that hurt us so, again, we didn't get the finish we were looking for last year, either.
"This year, we're coming back to Las Vegas with what we believe is a really good intermediate car for us. It has qualified on the pole at Charlotte and it has been a really solid performer for us. I think the last three tracks I raced it were Kansas, Charlotte and Homestead last year. And if it wouldn't have been for a driver error on my part at Charlotte, I think we would have finished in the top-three each time. Personally, for me, I really like Las Vegas. I always say it's my kind of racetrack because I like the ones that have hills, and this track has some great banking. As far as the track goes, they've made some changes to it over the past few years. The track is higher-banked. It has a rougher surface in that there's more bumps. The track has some character to it. Over the past couple of years, the bumps in the track have typically been pretty tricky, but that's something I like. We have some good notes from what we've done here the past couple of years, and I really hope we can build on those and the momentum we have to carry ourselves to another strong finish this weekend."
You mentioned that you haven't had the best finishes at Las Vegas but, looking back at stats, it looks like the No. 39 team has made some big improvements at the intermediate tracks. What are your thoughts on that?
"Over the past two seasons, our intermediate track program has improved by leaps and bounds. I think a lot of it can be attributed to just time and getting to know each other better as a team and the team getting to know me as a driver. We basically started from scratch two years ago, and we didn't have any notes, and we had to learn each other's style and what each other liked. And, with time, I think anyone can see that our knowledge of each other has improved and our communication has improved. I think it was toward the end of last year, especially, that you could see how far we had come. We found something that worked and really suited my driving style, and what we did transferred to results on the racetrack. I don't think we're necessarily where we want to be just yet when it comes to the intermediate tracks, but we've gotten a lot better and it shows in our finishes and we still want to improve on those.
"Las Vegas will also be a test for us this year because it's our first intermediate track with the new nose, so there's a new variable that we've got to work with there. I know our guys have been working really hard through the offseason to understand the new body and the new nose so that we know what we are dealing with when we get to the track and so we can make the most out of it."
Are you a big gambler when you go to Las Vegas?
"No. You won't see me at the tables playing just for the heck of it. I'm actually playing in a couple of charity poker tournaments this weekend - one for Victory Junction Gang Camp and one for the Tony Stewart Foundation - but I don't like to play with my money. When I do play poker, it's just for fun and I'm probably a pretty conservative player. I play the odds probably more than I should versus just playing the player. It's fun to play, though, and I will say it's pretty interesting to watch. I'm looking forward to playing in both tournaments. They are both for a good cause, and we'll see what happens. I won't make any predictions, though, on how I might do. You can think you're going to do well and then lose it all on the first hand because you're overconfident."