Bristol II: Ryan Newman preview

RYAN NEWMAN Hoping To 'Filter' Out All the Bad that Can Happen at Bristol KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Aug. 17, 2010) -- For Ryan Newman and his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing team, there couldn't be a better time than this weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor ...

RYAN NEWMAN
Hoping To 'Filter' Out All the Bad that Can Happen at Bristol

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Aug. 17, 2010) -- For Ryan Newman and his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing team, there couldn't be a better time than this weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for WIX Filters to jump on board as the No. 39 Chevrolet's primary sponsor.

After all, the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol is infamous for its treacherous demeanor. Don't blink, because anything can happen at any time. It's all part of the inherent challenges of short-track racing at Bristol -- having someone wreck in front of you, having nowhere to go, thus being wrecked.

With that in mind, Newman & Company will surely welcome the help from WIX Filters, the number one filter in NASCAR and an exclusive NASCAR Performance product, as they try to "filter" out all the bad that can happen at the .533-mile bullring nestled in the mountains of East Tennessee.

Heading into the "World's Fastest Half-Mile," Newman sits 14th in the championship standings, 103 points away from the 12th-place cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship with three races to go. Although a spot in the Chase isn't lost for Newman, it's going to be a tall order, and now is the time for him to make his move starting at the concrete short track.

Now Bristol, and the "you-never-know-what-you're-going-to-get-because-it's-all-a-crapshoot" mentality that the track is known for, wouldn't appear to be the most logical place for Newman and his team to believe they will make big gains. But it's difficult to argue with their short-track performance.

Since joining forces in 2009, Newman, crew chief Tony Gibson and the No. 39 WIX Filters team have posted solid performances on tracks under a mile in length. In nine combined starts at Bristol, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, Newman has finished outside of the top-10 just once -- and that was a 16th-place effort at Bristol last March.

In 17 career starts at Bristol, Newman has two poles, one top-five finish and nine top-10s. The South Bend, Ind., native also holds the qualifying record at the track -- which he earned by turning a blistering fast lap clocking in at 128.709 mph (14.908 seconds) in 2003.

Prior to his 16th-place effort at Bristol this past March, Newman had posted two consecutive top-10 finishes at the .533-mile oval -- a seventh- and a sixth-place finish, respectively.

In fact, it was at Bristol in March 2009 where Newman and his team made huge gains to turn around a season in which they were seemingly teetering on the edge. The team was 32nd in owner points and in danger of falling out of the top-35. Despite the bad luck that Bristol can instigate, Newman and his team marched into the short track with no fear.

They qualified on the outside pole, led 25 laps and finished seventh. It was the first top-10 finish of the 2009 season, and it marked the beginning of a run for the No. 39 team that saw Newman record seven top-10 finishes in the next 10 races and move from 27th to fourth in the championship.

To kick off the next three races, Newman and his No. 39 WIX Filters team hope and believe a solid performance at Bristol Saturday night can once again serve as a springboard that helps catapult them into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. And the key to that solid, momentum-building finish is simple in Newman's eyes -- to be able to "filter" out all the bad luck.

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

This will be the 100th Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. What are your favorite memories of Bristol?

"Bristol is always fun, on and off the racetrack. As a fan, watching (Dale) Earnhardt rattle cages was always interesting there. Even going back in history, watching cars smoke the right-rear all the way around when it was asphalt was cool. For me, personally, I've had some good memories there. I won a Nationwide race at the track. I guess running that 14.90 lap in qualifying back in 2003 was probably the most special moment for me, personally. That was definitely a fast lap, and I would be lying if I told you I didn't shock myself. And in the end, it's how I ended up with my nickname. I'm not really sure if it was Mike Joy or Larry Mac (McReynolds), but one of them said during the live broadcast of qualifying that it looked like I rocketed off the corner. And they may have gone on to say it was like I was a 'Rocketman.' I'm not really sure, but I do know it stuck. From that moment on, people started calling me 'Rocketman,' or using 'Rocketman' in their headlines about me. So that's how it happened."

Talk about running the WIX Filters Chevrolet at Bristol this weekend?

"I am excited. I know that it is a big race for everybody. For us, it is crunch time. Where our points position is, and the fact that it's Bristol, makes this a really big race. And to have WIX come on board with us and give some fans a chance to have some fun at the racetrack is cool. Of all places to have WIX on the car, I'm really glad it's Bristol because, hopefully, they can help us filter out all the stuff that we don't need to happen to us on the racetrack. Things happen to fast at Bristol. Any extra help we can get is something we will most definitely take. I'm definitely excited about having WIX Filters on the car and, hopefully, we'll be able to give them a big run that will help us build some momentum and get our spot in the Chase."

Following last week's race at Michigan, the No. 39 team is now 14th in points, 103 back of the 12th-place cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Does that change how you approach racing at Bristol? Is a spot in the Chase still attainable?

"Yes, a spot in the Chase is still attainable. And getting that spot in the Chase is still our goal. We're obviously not in the situation we want to be in because we're not already in the Chase. But we are glad we are in the situation we're in because we still have a shot of locking ourselves into the Chase. I don't know that we can approach it any differently. We know we have to have a good points day and that some of our competitors have to have a bad points day. I guess, in some ways, it's out of our hands. We're just going to keep doing what we've been doing. We race for wins every week, and we do the best we can. Sometimes we finish fifth, sometimes 15th, but we're always racing for the win. Bristol will be no different. I think if we have a chance to gamble and gain points or spots in the end, that's something we'll probably have to do because of the position we're in. The one thing that's important, though, is that I have a lot of faith in this team and what we can accomplish. I'm definitely excited about a couple of short tracks being part of the next few races to get into the Chase. That's a strong point for us, and I think that will be instrumental in the points race.

The No. 39 team has enjoyed a lot of success at the short tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit. You have only one finish outside of the top-10 in nine combined starts at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond. That finish was a 16th-place effort at Bristol last March. What is it about short-track racing and Bristol that has been so good for this team?

"The short tracks have really been where the No. 39 team has excelled. You didn't mention Phoenix on that list, but that's where we got our first win as a team, too. We've just been good on the short track. We had a really good short-track program from the get-go. I really like Bristol and I always have. Then, you add the fact that Bristol is one of Tony Gibson's favorite racetracks, and I think you saw that my driving style and the package Gibson put underneath me really worked well for us. We finished seventh and sixth there last year, and that seventh-place finish last spring was a finish that gave us some momentum and built confidence for us and helped us click off some top-10s and really make a jump in the standings. In March, I'm confident we had another top-10 car for the race, but we ended up with a lug nut issue on the next-to-last pit stop that just trapped us in traffic and we finished 16th, which was disappointing. I'm confident that we're going to have a good car right off the truck, and if we can stay out of trouble, I'm expecting to have a good night in the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet.

Talk about racing at Bristol Motor Speedway. How has the track evolved as your racing style has over time?

"There's no place like Bristol. I've told people before that Bristol is like a baby superspeedway. If something happens in front of you, it may not be your fault, but you can get caught up in somebody else's wreck in the blink of an eye. You have to really be on your toes at Bristol, and that seems to be where frustrations can rise and flame up quicker than at any other racetrack. Everyone will tell you Bristol has always been a game of survival. Everything happens so fast there. You don't have time to think or blink. I learned that in 2003, when I won the pole there. I knew I had a good car but I never anticipated I could put down a lap that fast. You just don't realize how quickly everything happens at Bristol. You could have the best car out there, but everything is completely out of your hands. One minute, you could be running in the lead and, just seconds later, you could be wrecked in the corner and out of the race and it would be no fault of your own. You won't even realize what has happened to you until afterward.

"I think the racing and the track are definitely better the way they are now. I think it's more a combination of the tire and the track than it is the age of the concrete. Concrete doesn't change very much, if at all, over time. It's more the combination of the tire and the racing we can do with that tire. With the tire Goodyear has been bringing, the racing has been very good. I think we put a lot of emphasis on qualifying because Bristol is a track where, if you miss the first run set-up wise, you'll be a lap down before you know it. We're going to make the best of it, like any other track. It just happens to be Bristol, and everything happens very fast. To me, the racing is at an all-time high at Bristol, compared to the way it used to be. We can race side-by-side and actually gain spots without having to wreck someone."

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

Short tracks have really been this team's forte. Why do you think that is the case, and what is it about Bristol?

"I like racing everywhere but, for some reason, for me, my setups seem to work better at those tracks. They fit Ryan and they fit whoever I've been with. It just fits both our styles a little bit better. Ryan really likes short tracks, and he really likes the high banks of Bristol because I think they remind him of Winchester (Ind.) and Salem (Ind.) and these tracks he used to run and enjoy. He likes the speed and the banking. For me, Bristol is probably my best track. I've had a lot of success in the past and it really hasn't mattered who I've worked with. Everybody I have been with over the years, from Alan Kulwicki up until now, we've done well. It's my favorite track. I've had a lot of success, and the biggest thing -- probably traumatic -- that's happened to me was the year Alan got killed and we all showed up. So, it's an emotional track for me. It means a lot for me to go there and run well. Hopefully, this weekend, we can go there and get a win, lead some laps and get some bonus points and be solid. And that's really all we can do. We have to do as much as we can on our side, and just see what happens to those other guys."

Following Michigan, the No. 39 team is sitting 14th in the points, 103 back of the 12th-place cutoff for the Chase for the Championship. Do you approach Bristol any differently with that deficit? And what are your thoughts on the No. 39 team making the Chase?

"Last weekend at Michigan hurt. We went in being 83 points out, and it looked like we were going to have a good day, but we got turned around on the track and we ended up ending up 103 points out of 12th. So it hurts, but we all know we can do it. It's a setback, but it's not the first setback we have had. At Daytona in July, we were 15 points out before the race and, after the race, we were 88 points out. We came back from that, and we put ourselves back in contention. You know, we gained 55 points after Watkins Glen. So, we know it's just as easy to gain those points as it is to lose them. And we know we can gain back as much as we did two weeks ago, if not more, if the circumstances are in our favor at Bristol. We know we're going to have to be really aggressive, and we know we're going to have to take some chances. And you don't wish bad luck on anybody, but some of those guys are going to have to have some problems for us to get in. It's definitely feasible. We just have to have a strong mental attitude as a team, and go into it with a positive outlook and just see what cards we are dealt."

You mention Alan Kulwicki a lot when you talk about Bristol. You were Kulwicki's car chief and you worked with him from 1986 until he died in a plane crash in 2003. Are there a lot of special memories that get stirred up when you go to Bristol? Would a win at Bristol be more special to you because of that connection to Alan Kulwicki?

"We used to fly into Bristol -- back when I worked with DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) and Hendrick (Motorsports) -- and every time I flew in there, I couldn't help but look down. It would just bring back memories of that plane laying on the ground and the pictures of it broken in half. I'll never forget it. Every time I fly into Bristol, and now just drive around that area, I think of Alan. I'll never forget riding out of Bristol in the hauler with Peter Jellen when it was pouring rain and heading back to Charlotte. There's just a lot of emotion around Bristol for me. There are a lot of good times and some bad times there. But I think it's a good thing for me, because it keeps me in the game with my heart and my mind.

"With him getting killed going to Bristol, it was pretty tough to take. We were supposed to have been on that plane. Our luggage was on the plane. We were running late, and we ended up driving up and he went on to his appearance. Things just didn't work out, or we would have been on that plane, too.

"Every time I walk into the track, I think of Alan and I think about the times we had. We won the last race there when it was pavement (1992). We won two in a row and I think the last one that we won was the last race on asphalt. There are a lot of memories there, a lot of good times and, of course, there's the one bad time. Every time I walk into Bristol, I feel like Alan is by my side and he's helping me make decisions and do some cool stuff, so it means a lot for me to go to Bristol."

-source: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ryan Newman , Alan Kulwicki
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing