Atlanta: Ryan Newman preview

Fishing for Pole Record and a Solid Finish at Atlanta KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (March 4, 2009) -- The biggest fish that avid fisherman and outdoorsman Ryan Newman ever caught was at a lake near Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga. Newman, driver of...

Fishing for Pole Record and a Solid Finish at Atlanta

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (March 4, 2009) -- The biggest fish that avid fisherman and outdoorsman Ryan Newman ever caught was at a lake near Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga. Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing, loves retelling the story of his 10-plus-pound catch, even though the day hadn't started out so well for him.

The big fishing expedition occurred in the spring of 2006. Newman, who was competing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, blew a right-rear tire with just over 50 laps remaining. The accident ended his day, and after getting checked out in the infield care center, Newman was ready to get away from the racetrack and a race that he felt he should have won.

He went back to his motorcoach, grabbed his fishing rods and told his wife Krissie that it was time to go. On their way out of the infield tunnel, Newman called a friend who owns property with several lakes on it near the track. Before long, Newman was enjoying his favorite pastime. And in just 30 minutes, he had hooked his biggest largemouth bass ever. It weighed in at 10 pounds, six ounces.

This weekend, Newman is hoping to hook another impressive trophy for the racing record books. The seven-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran is tied for the most pole positions at Atlanta Motor Speedway with seven.

In his first race with Stewart-Haas Racing at Atlanta, Newman would like nothing more than to score his record-setting eighth pole at the 1.54-mile oval and break the tie with his friend and mentor, Buddy Baker.

Newman, who is known as the "Rocketman" for his penchant for winning pole positions, credits Baker for his ability to turn a quick lap. Early in Newman's NASCAR career, Baker was especially helpful as the former U.S. Auto Club (USAC) champion learned to adjust to the bigger stock cars and the bigger, faster racetracks.

According to Newman, Baker would take him to a track and have him drive it backward because it would give him a "different perspective on entry and exit points." Lessons like that one taught Newman what to do and what not to do in qualifying -- especially at Atlanta -- and they have stuck with him.

Perhaps Baker's guidance will help Newman snare this weekend's top spot for the Kobalt Tools 500. Then, maybe, Newman will be able to tell stories not only about the big fish he caught, but also about the quickest laps he turned time and time again at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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

What would it mean for you to break Buddy Baker's pole record at Atlanta this weekend?

"It's not so much about breaking Buddy's pole record. In fact, being tied with Buddy is quite an honor for me. I think it would be even more of an honor if I could pass him and set my own pole record at Atlanta -- just because I know what an incredible driver and teacher Buddy was to me, and I know how long that pole record has stood. Being able to set the record this weekend in my first race at Atlanta for Stewart-Haas Racing would probably make the feat more special to me. It would be my first Sprint Cup pole in the No. 39 car, which would mean so much to me just because of the history that I've had with that number dating back to my USAC days. It would be Stewart-Haas Racing's first pole position, and it would be a record-setting pole for me at that track. We've had a stretch of bad racing luck the first couple of races. And then, last week in Las Vegas, we had such a fast car but had to pit for a loose wheel and that took us out of contention. We need something good to happen. I think winning the pole on Friday night would be just the boost that this team needs right now."

Talk a little bit about your relationship with Buddy Baker.

"Buddy and I got to be friends when I starting testing at Penske Racing. We realized we had a lot in common, and he became a good friend and a great mentor. Buddy and I spent a lot of time together at tests in a rental car driving the racetracks forward and backward. Driving the tracks backward gave me a different perspective of the entry and exit points of each corner. What Buddy did was teach me how to approach those areas on the racetrack when I was driving the track the right way.

"Buddy probably helped me more than I realized at the time because he never told me what to do -- he told me what not to do. He would never tell me when I was doing something right, but he always told me what I was doing wrong, because he wanted me to learn from my mistakes. He was an amazing teacher, and I count myself very lucky to have Buddy as a friend and mentor. He truly was a very important part of my career when I first started in NASCAR, and I can't thank him enough for all he did for me. Last year, after we won the Daytona 500, we decided to name the car that went into the museum 'Buddy.' It was my way of thanking him."

What makes you such a strong qualifier at Atlanta?

"Honestly, Atlanta was a racetrack that Buddy and I spent a lot of time testing at during the earlier years of my career. It was a track where he was very good, and I haven't forgotten anything that he told me about how to get around there. I like Atlanta because it's a fast track. I had a strong car in qualifying at Las Vegas, and I think we will have a strong car when it comes to qualifying at Atlanta this weekend."

How do you move past your recent run of bad luck and keep both yourself and the team pumped up?

"It has been a frustrating few weeks for the No. 39 Haas Automation team, but it's a long season. It helps me to think about the things that have gone right -- the fact that I know we have had highly competitive cars, but that we have had some rough luck. We have tremendous support from Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet. I am very confident in the guys who are working on my cars at Stewart-Haas Racing. We have fast racecars and a great team behind me. I have no doubt that we will be a very competitive team once we get things going our way. Hopefully, that is sooner rather than later."

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

Ryan is known for his ability to win the pole position -- especially at Atlanta. This week, he has the opportunity to set the track's all-time pole record. How much does that play into what you want to accomplish this weekend? What would it mean for this team if you could help Ryan win the pole and set the record?

"We definitely have the driver who can win the pole. If we can give him a car that he can drive, I think we will definitely have a shot at it. We know that Ryan has traditionally been a threat to win the pole -- not just at Atlanta, but in qualifying, in general, throughout his career. We also know that Ryan wants to be back in that position where he is contending for the pole each and every weekend, and we want to be able to put him there. We want to have a good car in qualifying and in the race each time we go out. We had a great car in qualifying last week at Las Vegas. But we had an early draw, and I think that hurt us a little bit. It was good to qualify sixth, but we want to start on the front row.

"I was on Buddy Baker's radio show on Sirius the other night, and Buddy said if anybody could break his pole record at Atlanta, he couldn't think of anybody he would rather see do it than Ryan. It would definitely be a special moment for everyone -- for Ryan and for the guys on this team -- if we could win the pole and get Ryan that record this weekend. After the rough start that we've had, it would be a great way to get back on track."

Moving forward through the frustration early in the season, how do you keep Ryan and the team pumped up and confident that their time is coming?

"We haven't had very good luck starting off the year, but we aren't giving up. I have been through this before and so have a lot of people. Teams go through stages like this where you can't do anything right. And then you go through a stage where you can't do anything wrong. We just can't wait to get on the other side of this deal. We've got our heads up, and Ryan's in the game. We're in this deal together. We're going to push along and we're going to fight through it and we're going to get it. There are other guys who are struggling, too. It will turn around. We've just got to be positive and keep digging."

What are your thoughts heading into Atlanta, considering you have now had your first test at a 1.5-mile racetrack with Las Vegas this past weekend?

"I think we will run good at Atlanta this weekend, and I think that we will have a strong car. We learned a lot this past weekend at Las Vegas. We had a really strong car in qualifying and a really good car in the race, too. We just didn't get to show it. We keep having these stumbling blocks that get in our way of showing how good we can be. We'll get there. I think Atlanta is a great track for Ryan and it's a great track for me, also. I've had a lot of success there in the past. As a company, I think this weekend is our time to turn it around. We have great support from Hendrick Motorsports, and I am so proud of this Stewart-Haas Racing organization.

"They say bad things come in threes, and (Las Vegas) was our third race together. So, hopefully, all our bad luck is out of our way and we can roll on. This is a tough sport because there are no guarantees in this business. It's a humbling sport. Just when you think you've got it, it can turn on you really, really quickly. You just have to keep your guys positive, and you've got to keep a good attitude and keep chugging along. You can't stop. You have to work hard every day because you never know when your opportunity is going to come along to win a race. You have to be mentally prepared and physically prepared to take advantage of those opportunities when they come. That's where we're at right now. We're working hard. We're going to continue to work hard. When our luck turns around for us, hopefully we can capitalize on it."

-credit: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ryan Newman , Buddy Baker
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Team Penske , Hendrick Motorsports