Atlanta: Ryan Newman preview

RYAN NEWMAN A Little Help from a Good Buddy Has Gone a Long Way KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (March 3, 2010) -- It's been 299 races since Ryan Newman made his debut in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series during the 2000 season. Newman's debut at Phoenix ...

A Little Help from a Good Buddy Has Gone a Long Way

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (March 3, 2010) -- It's been 299 races since Ryan Newman made his debut in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series during the 2000 season. Newman's debut at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., was about a little more than nine years ago. For Newman, it's hard to believe how quickly the time has passed.

Seems it wasn't very long ago that Newman was a fresh-faced college student who, after enjoying success in the open-wheel ranks, was working to transition to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It was back then that the United States Auto Club (USAC) champion was paired with former Sprint Cup driver Buddy Baker. Baker was charged with teaching the Indiana native how to hustle around NASCAR's bigger racetracks in bigger, heavier stock cars.

The 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., where Newman will make his 300th Sprint Cup start this weekend in the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), was just one racetrack where Baker and Newman spent numerous days working together. Atlanta is just one of the places where the lessons that Newman learned have stuck with him.

The story goes that, nearly 10 years ago, Baker would travel with Newman to different racetracks and test sessions as his driving coach. While the team was in the garage preparing the racecar, Newman and Baker would jump in the rental car, buckle in and go for a ride around the racetrack.

Baker -- the legendary driver who amassed 19 wins in 700 Cup starts -- would show Newman how to drive the racetrack. The two would even drive the track backward so the young Newman would have a better perspective on the track's entry and exit points.

Baker was very careful not to tell Newman what he should do. However, should Newman do something wrong on the track, Baker was the first to let him know what it was. Baker wanted his young protege to learn from his mistakes.

The lessons that Baker taught are still fresh in Newman's mind. Newman often reflects on Baker's advice and has recognized him for his help in making him the driver he is today on numerous occasions. In fact, after Newman's win in the 50th Running of the Daytona 500 in 2008, Newman named the car Buddy to thank his mentor.

Newman has a chance to honor his adviser in another way at Atlanta this weekend. The two -- teacher and student -- are tied with seven poles each at Atlanta, the most of any driver. With the ultimate qualifying effort, Newman could break the tie and set the all-time pole record and, in doing so, would give a nod of thanks to the man who helped him learn how to be successful in NASCAR.

For Newman, qualifying on the pole would also be a boost for his No. 39 SHR team and a potential momentum builder for the rest of the weekend. After three races, the team sits 32nd in points and has a best finish of 18th (last weekend at Las Vegas) so far this season. Although Newman and his team aren't worried about their spot deep in the points, the team is ready to make a bold jump starting with qualifying this weekend at Atlanta.

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

You head to Atlanta this weekend with an opportunity to break a tie between you and Buddy Baker and set the pole record (with eight poles) at the 1.54-mile racetrack. What would it mean to you to hold the pole record at Atlanta Motor Speedway?

"Buddy Baker has been a good friend and mentor to me since I got my opportunity to race stock cars with Penske Racing back in 2000. He was someone I had admired, and when I got to know him, we had a lot in common and really enjoyed each other. I still talk to him pretty frequently -- and we both have a lot of stories about each other, which we won't get into, but we had fun. A lot of people have heard me tell the stories about how and what Buddy taught me, but it's something that's pretty cool and has been really important to my career. Buddy and I would go to racetracks and we would take our rental car out on the tracks at tests and drive around 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. Atlanta was a track that he helped me with a lot. Back when I tied him for the pole record, I think he joked that he shouldn't have taught me quite so well.

"To be honest, though, 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 taught me, more so sometimes, the things not to do than the things to do. To me, that made a big difference and a big impact. If I could not make some of those same mistakes he did that cost him a shot at a victory, and to make an addition to his resume, those were things that were going to help my resume.

"I really would like to get the pole record at Atlanta. I look at all the records that are out there, and I think I told reporters last year that this may be my only shot at a record of any kind. But to me, 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. It would be something really special. I think both Buddy and I would be excited if I could set the record this weekend."

While you have had great success at winning poles in Atlanta -- you even had six in a row from 2003-2005 -- you haven't had as much success in the races. You have just one top-five in 16 starts. What do you attribute that to?

"Unfortunately, I've heard that question before, too. When you look at my stats, I guess I've got a lot of poles and not so many wins, or at least a third as many wins as I have poles. But the numbers don't necessarily tell the whole story. I've had some fast racecars there. We lost power steering one race and still finished 10th, one lap down. We had a tire that was out of balance and pitted while we were leading one year and went a lap down. Last year, we had strong racecars in both of the races at Atlanta. We had a top-10 car in the spring race and we lost a cylinder, which caused us to fall out of contention. In the fall, we had a really good car. I struggled with handling for most of the race but, in the last 100 laps, I got the car to my liking and I was able to get a top-10 out of it. So I've had some fast race cars. I'm not talking the first run of the race. I'm talking toward the end of the race. Unfortunately, we've not gotten the results to show for it. We got turned around on the back straightaway running in the top-five with (Dale Earnhardt) Junior at one time there. It's all in how you look at it. I've always said it's tougher to complete 500 miles faster than everybody than it is to run one lap fast and hold your breath.

"I feel like, this year, we have the opportunity to win the pole and have a solid finish. We had a really good car in both races at Atlanta last year. And over the past year, our mile-and-a-half program at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has really improved, so I think we will have an even better shot at both a pole and a good finish. Just in the past two races, I've been really happy with my No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet. We've unloaded well. We've been super fast. We've been really competitive. Unfortunately, we had issues at both races -- a blown engine at California and some pit road issues at Las Vegas -- and we didn't get the finishes we feel we deserved. Overall, though, we've had some really strong racecars, so I'm looking forward to seeing what we have for Atlanta this weekend."

What are some of the keys to racing at Atlanta?

"Atlanta is fast, especially when the conditions are right. You have to hit your marks. It's bumpy enough that those bumps can spit you right out. Getting into turn one and the middle of three and four, you've just got catch everything just right. It's kind of like surfing or wakeboarding -- you've got to catch the waves right and, obviously, put the car in the right spot to do the right things with the gas and the steering wheel. I think it's the combination of the tire grip that we have, initially, and it's a wide open racetrack. There's plenty of room to race there. It's one of the best racetracks we go to for three- and four-wide racing in the corners. I think we'll have a good car. We ran better in Atlanta last year than I have in a long time, so I look forward to going back and seeing what we have this time around."

You haven't really had the start to the 2010 season that you had hoped for with two DNFs and a top-20 finish. Instead, it's very reminiscent of how you started out last year. With that in mind, your team was able to fight back from a rough start and secure a spot in the Chase for the Championship. Is that something you guys look at right now and something that keeps you motivated and saying that you can do this?

"It has been a frustrating start to the season for us but, just because a race or two doesn't go your way, you can't get down and upset and think that this is how your season is going to go, or this is what your season is going to be like. We have to stay focused and believe that our luck is going to change. We know where we were at this time last year and it's about the same spot as we are right now. For us, though, we are looking at the big picture and we've run a lot better already in the first three races this year than we did last year. We've made some pretty big gains as an organization and some pretty big gains for me, personally, working with Tony Gibson and having a year under our belts and having that notebook to go back to from when we got some experience together there last year. For instance, California was something that was out of our control. Our biggest satisfaction was knowing that we had a car that was a top-five racecar in Fontana. We worked our way toward the front every run, and then we lost an engine. Gibson probably says it best -- that we have to take a positive out of each race. We got our first finish at Las Vegas. It wasn't a finish I was happy with or proud of, but we finished the race and now we're going to use that as a springboard to hopefully make some big gains in the points these next few weeks, just like we did last year. We came from behind last year as a new team of people who didn't really know each other. I have a lot of faith in this team because we didn't give up at all last year, and I believe we can do the same thing again this year."

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

Ryan has enjoyed great success in qualifying at Atlanta. He is tied for the pole record there with Buddy Baker with seven poles, and he has the chance to set the all-time pole record this weekend. How much of a focus will you put on that this weekend?

"Ryan is definitely a threat to win the pole at Atlanta, and I would really like to see him get that record. It's something we would like to help him achieve, but I would give up a pole for a strong car all day, good pit stops and to be able to win a race. Anybody can sit on the pole, but you've got to win races when it comes right down to it. I'd rather have a really good racecar than a really good qualifying car. We've had good qualifying cars the first three races this season. I know Ryan has thought that he had a valid shot at the pole at Daytona, California and Las Vegas, and I don't think it will be any different for us this weekend at Atlanta. We're taking the car we ran in California, and we unloaded good and fast right off the truck, so I think we'll have a good car and we have good notes. The rest will be in Ryan's hands. I would love for him to get the pole and that record, but I don't just want to win the pole just for the sake of winning the pole. I would settle for a really, really good racecar and have a solid day in the pits and on the racetrack."

Last weekend at Las Vegas, the team qualified third and then had some issues on pit road, which led to an 18th-place finish. However, your first comment at the end of the race was, "We finished one of these things, and that's a start." Can you talk about that comment and what your goals are heading into Atlanta?

"I look at it as a case where we had to pull a positive out of the weekend. We had a really, really good car right off the truck at Las Vegas. We qualified well -- in third place. The race started out really well for us, but we lost several spots on the first pit stop and then we lost a straightaway to the leader on a green-flag stop, and that's what put us behind, which was disappointing and frustrating to everyone. But we did finish the race. We had a good car. We just had some bad pit-road issues that put us further back than we should have been. You just try to pull a positive out of each race, no matter what it is. The way I look at it is that it's early in the season. This isn't where we wanted to be, but we have to look at each race and make the best of each situation. Right now, we just have to keep finishing these races. As long as we can do that, we will be doing what we did last year and we'll be fine. It won't be long until we will be right back up there in the hunt.

"We ran well at Atlanta last year both times we were there. We had some engine issues and dropped a cylinder in the first race while we were running in the top-10. The second race, we got a top-10. We know we run well there. NASCAR and Goodyear have brought the same tire to Atlanta, which seems to suit Ryan's driving style a little better so, hopefully, that will play into our favor and help us shine a little bit better, too. We gained points after our finish at Las Vegas. We need to make some bigger gains. We need to make a six- or eight-spot gain there. We need to have the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet in the top-20 by the time we come out of Bristol. That's our goal right now, just to have solid finishes and get back up there in the points like we did last year."

-source: shr

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