Taking Care of Daytona's Unfinished Business at Talladega KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 22, 2009) -- In Ryan Newman's opinion, there are really no comparisons between Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The ...
Taking Care of Daytona's Unfinished Business at Talladega
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 22, 2009) -- In Ryan Newman's opinion, there are really no comparisons between Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The racetracks may look alike in an aerial photograph, and the tracks host the only restrictor-plate races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, but Newman believes the similarities end there.
This weekend, Newman and his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing team also want the similarities to end there.
It's not that Newman feels that he and his team have something to prove. After all, Talladega is just another race and this weekend's Aaron's 499 race pays the same amount of points as any other race on the Sprint Cup calendar. It's more like Newman and his No. 39 team have some unfinished business.
Unfinished business? Isn't this the team's first race at Talladega? "Yes" is the answer to both of those questions. But this unfinished business has less to do with Talladega and more to do with the fact that the team didn't get its desired results at the other restrictor-plate track earlier this season.
At Daytona, the No. 39 team had a fast and good-handling racecar, which was evident when it qualified third, missing the front row by mere hundredths of a second. However, trouble found Newman and his new race team at every corner of the racetrack and sent the team to not one, but two backup cars. Despite the adversity, Newman and his team soldiered on, refusing to give up.
Since the checkered flag fell at Daytona, there have been seven other races. Newman and the No. 39 team have posted two top-10 finishes -- a seventh-place at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and a sixth-place at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway with a near-pole position. Still, there has always been that nagging feeling about Daytona -- the feeling the team didn't get the chance to show how good its No. 39 Chevrolet really could be.
This weekend at Talladega provides that chance.
Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) is a team that prides itself on its superspeedway program and the aero package that it has diligently created thanks to countless hours of study and work in the wind tunnel. Since Daytona, the SHR shop has carefully prepared the primary car for Talladega. The team cut the dented and crushed sheet metal from the Daytona backup car. It then hung a new body on the Hendrick chassis. It tested the racecar in the wind tunnel to study its numbers. Now, it's time to race and finish what was started in February.
As the team heads to Talladega, it is confident in the product it will put on the racetrack. There is no doubt that it has a fast racecar. And, behind the wheel, there is the 2008 Daytona 500 champion. Newman has three top-five and six top-10 finishes in 14 starts at Talladega with a best finish of fourth on two occasions. He knows how to race his way to the front of a pack of drafting cars.
Something to prove? Maybe. Newman and his team have already proven that Daytona and all of its adversity didn't break them. In fact, it made them stronger. And, just maybe, it made them hungrier for a solid run, or maybe even their first win at the second restrictor-plate race of the season.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You have said that Daytona was a very humbling experience for you. Since the circuit is heading to another restrictor-plate racetrack this weekend, are you going to Talladega with the attitude that you have something to prove?
"Daytona was a very humbling experience for me. I think I made everyone in the media laugh when I said this the first time -- that what happened to us in Daytona will destroy your ego and pull your tail so far between your legs that you talk differently -- but that's almost the perfect description of what happened. To go into the biggest race of the season as the defending champion, to have this natural high about you, and then to have to go through all the hardships that we did, it was very humbling for me. But, because we had such a difficult week at Daytona, does that mean I come to Talladega with more of an agenda, more of a feeling that I have to prove something? There is nothing different to prove this week than any other week that I go to the track and race, in my opinion.
"I think it is fair to say that I am definitely hungry for a good run at Talladega, maybe more hungry because of the issues at Daytona. We had good cars in Daytona. I just didn't get the chance to show how good my No. 39 Chevrolet really could be because of the issues we had that forced us to two different backups over the course of the week. Our cars were solid and they were fast, and what you need at Talladega is a fast car. I'm definitely looking forward to getting on track at Talladega and having a good run for Stewart-Haas Racing."
How would you compare Daytona and Talladega?
"If you take an aerial photo of the two racetracks, they look virtually the same. But I think the similarities end there. Talladega is just totally different. It has a really smooth surface, and typically the fastest racecar is out front. That's one of the reasons that I'm excited to go there with my No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. We were really fast at Daytona in practice, and we qualified third overall. Speed is key this weekend. And where handling of the racecar is so crucial at Daytona, it really isn't an issue at Talladega.
"I guess Talladega is similar to Daytona in that the race is really a crapshoot. Anything can happen at any time. Racing at Talladega is wide-open all the time. It takes teamwork to stay up front and, luckily, Tony (Stewart) and I have worked really well together at restrictor-plate races before we were teammates. We didn't really get the chance to team up during the Daytona 500, but I think you will see the No. 39 and No. 14 Chevrolets together at some point in time this weekend. If you have a fast racecar and you can keep your nose clean, you should have a good day at Talladega."
You have a Daytona 500 victory to your credit and, at Talladega, you have three top-five and six top-10 finishes in 14 Sprint Cup starts. What has been the most challenging thing that you have had to learn about restrictor-plate racing over the years?
"I think patience is the biggest thing. The second-biggest thing is that so many cars are so close and so equal, you almost have to wait your turn if you're not in that group that's running in the top-five. The ability to stay calm and not overreact is crucial. You have to be able to predict what might happen. Predicting what might happen is important in anything, whether you're driving a street car down the road and wondering if someone is going to cross the centerline on you, or you're driving 200 mph and trying to figure out if there's going to be an accident three cars in front of you. Trying to predict that future is extremely difficult, but it can be done. And predicting what might happen is something you really have to do when you're racing at Talladega."
This weekend, you are running your first NASCAR Nationwide Series race of the season for Kevin Harvick, Inc. (KHI). It is also your first Nationwide Series race at Talladega. What are your thoughts on racing in the Nationwide Series? Does competing in Saturday's race help you in the Sprint Cup race on Sunday?
"Kevin and DeLana Harvick have done a tremendous job putting together not only their Nationwide team but also their Truck program at KHI. I had the opportunity to drive for them a couple of times last year in the Truck at Atlanta, which we won, and then again at Homestead in the Nationwide car. They truly have a terrific organization that I was really impressed with. The fact that the No. 33 team has already done so well this season just shows the caliber of equipment and people that they have. That gives me a lot of confidence heading into the race. But to be honest, I also know that I have a tall order on my plate because this team has done so well. I'm really looking forward to getting behind the wheel of their car and seeing what we can do this weekend.
"I have always said that running the race on Saturday helps you prepare for the Cup race on Sunday. When I ran nine Nationwide races back in 2005 (and won six of them), I think that it was a huge help to me the following day. Several of the races where I won, I was able to get top-fives or top-10s in the Cup race the following day. You learn things in the Nationwide races that help you in the Cup races the following day, and I think you build your confidence level if you run well. At Talladega, I'm not sure that the benefits are as big. You're not learning specific entry points that might help the car turn better or anything like that because Talladega is a different beast. But I still think that it's a good opportunity for me. I like having the extra practice at the track. And if you have a good day on Saturday, I think that only helps to build your confidence on Sunday.
"I've run several double-duty weekends over the years, but I've never had a clean sweep at any track -- winning the races on both Saturday and Sunday. I'd like to have the opportunity to do that this weekend."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How do you approach a race like Talladega?
"Honestly, you go to Talladega to try to survive the big wreck. You work on and prepare for it in the race shop for weeks, and then you go down there and just hope to keep your nose clean. Anything can happen at any time. The race on Sunday will be four-wide, mad chaos for 188 laps. Handling is not a big issue at Talladega. You want to run fast to prove that you can do it. But, in the end, Talladega is a crapshoot. Every lap, you have your fingers crossed hoping that you're not in the big wreck, and anybody who says that they're not worried about that is lying. Any second, your whole race can be done, no matter how good your car is that day. It doesn't matter if you're the driver, a crew member or a fan, you're holding your breath every lap at Talladega."
The No. 39 had a rough go at Daytona, the first restrictor-plate race of the year. The car was fast, but problems kept the team from showing just how good the car was. Does the fact that the cars were strong give the team some extra confidence heading into Talladega this weekend?
"Knowing that we had fast cars absolutely gives us confidence going into Talladega. We had a great qualifying effort. I think we missed the pole by a couple of thousandths of a second. We were running at the front and had a great chance of winning the Duel before we were spun out and wrecked there at the end of the race. And our backup car, which is the car we have this weekend, was just as fast as our primary. We felt like we had a shot to win the 500 in our backup car. And the fact that we didn't get to show how good we are does maybe give us the feeling that we have something to prove. But, at Talladega, it's not always the best car that is going to win it. You go there on the defensive."