Charlotte II: Ryan Newman preview

RYAN NEWMAN More Than Meets the Eye KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 14, 2009) -- "At the end of this day, one shall stand, one shall fall." -- Optimus Prime to Megatron in Transformers Ryan Newman plans to be the one still standing at the end of ...

More Than Meets the Eye

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 14, 2009) -- "At the end of this day, one shall stand, one shall fall." -- Optimus Prime to Megatron in Transformers

Ryan Newman plans to be the one still standing at the end of Saturday night's clash under the lights in the NASCAR Banking 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C.

Taking the top spot this weekend at Charlotte would not only be a huge boost for Newman and his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing team after two difficult weekends left them on shaky ground in the Chase for the Championship, it would also be a triumph for the good guys.

At Charlotte, Newman's No. 39 Chevrolet will feature a special paint scheme to celebrate the upcoming debut Oct. 20 of TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen on DVD and Blu-ray. And he won't be the only Transformer on the racetrack. While Newman's No. 39 will feature images of OPTIMUS PRIME, the heroic leader of the peace-loving AUTOBOTS, Jeff Gordon's No. 24 car will sport graphics of MEGATRON, the malevolent leader of the DECEPTICONS.

For race fans and movie fans alike, the two racecars will duke it out in a classic battle of good vs. evil, as Newman and his team of amiable AUTOBOTS try to take the victory and save the world from Gordon and the wicked DECEPTICONS. But for Newman and the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing team, the battle on the racetrack will be more than just about good vs. evil. This weekend at Charlotte will be about survival and staying alive in the Chase.

With just six races remaining before the champion is crowned following the season finale Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Newman has slipped to 10th in the point standings, 223 markers behind leader Jimmie Johnson. To regain some of that lost ground, Newman and his No. 39 team need to be flawless over the next six races, starting with this weekend's race at Charlotte.

And based on Newman's run at Charlotte in the spring, there's no other place where he and his team would rather begin reclaiming those lost points. Newman scored both his best qualifying effort (the pole position) and his best finish (a second-place finish in the rain-shortened race) of the 2009 season during the Coca-Cola 600 weekend.

In 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Charlotte, Newman has eight poles, four top-five and six top-10 finishes. Although Newman doesn't have a win at Charlotte in point-paying races (he won the 2002 All-Star Race), he has come close. In 2007, Newman was well on his way to victory, besting the field by well over a second. However, with just a handful of laps remaining, Newman cut a tire, slammed the wall and ended his day, handing the victory to Gordon.

For Newman, it was one race that got away. Newman knows he has his work cut out for him, but he still believes his No. 39 team has a shot at securing its ultimate goal. Like his car's persona this weekend at Charlotte -- OPTIMUS PRIME -- Newman believes his team is "more than meets the eye."

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

Is it a relief for the teams to go to Charlotte right in the middle of the Chase?

"Really, it's just nice to be home for that weekend. I really enjoy it. I like Charlotte. It's one of my favorite racetracks. So having it in the backyard is really nice. I wouldn't say it's a time where we regroup. I think there is more regrouping in the week between Kansas and California because the cars are already on their way out to Fontana, so there are a lot fewer things you can do on those cars and you focus on the next race. So regrouping, not necessarily; but just to be home and enjoying some more time with the family is probably a good thing for everybody."

You have eight pole positions at Charlotte in 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at the track, including the pole that you won there in May, which was also Stewart-Haas Racing's first pole position. What is it about Lowe's Motor Speedway that makes qualifying so good for you?

"I really enjoy the racetrack -- the speed, obviously, and the banking. I've always said I really enjoy banked racetracks and this is one of the best and fastest banked racetracks out there. I've had fast racecars with Penske Racing and now with Stewart-Haas Racing and just have been blessed with fast racecars. I couldn't do it without fast racecars. I've always told my crew chief, whoever it is at the time, 'If you give me a straight arrow, I'll shoot it straight. But don't expect me to shoot a crooked arrow to the pole.' And they've done a very good job for me.

"Winning the first pole for Stewart-Haas at Charlotte was something that was very special for me. Tony had gotten the team's first win the weekend before in the All-Star race, so we were looking pretty dominant at Charlotte after those two feats, I guess you could say. I think we've had a shot at several other poles this year and we just haven't been able to do it, whether it be driver error or track changes or changes we made to the car. So, I'm looking forward to getting back to Charlotte and going for another pole. Tony Gibson and the guys are working hard, bringing good racecars to the racetracks. We've really struggled with qualifying the last couple of weeks, so I'm looking forward to getting back to Charlotte and me just being able to hit my marks and get us a good starting spot."

You have eight poles at Charlotte, but you haven't been able to turn those poles into wins. Back in May, you won the pole and finished second in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600. What would a win at Charlotte mean to you?

"I've heard that a lot from the media. In fact, I think, back in May, that was one of the questions people asked me: 'Why do you qualify well here, but not have success in the race?' And I don't know that there's an answer to that. I won the All-Star race in 2002, and I've been fairly close to winning at Charlotte in a points race before. I've had some fast racecars at Charlotte, and at the end of the race, I have just fallen short. For me, my All-Star race win at Charlotte during my rookie season in 2002 was really special because that was the race we weren't expected to win. I was a rookie. We weren't even in the race to begin with, but we raced our way in that night. And we beat everybody at the home field on a given night and we did it because of the pride and the money, not because of the points, and there's a lot to be said about that. So to me, a win at Charlotte would mean the world. It's been over a year without a win, and for me to give Tony his first win as a Sprint Cup owner would be special. It really would be cool.

"We ran really well at Charlotte in May. We were in position to win the All-Star race. We won the pole for the 600, and we led some laps in the 600. I think we have a really good car. Our program for there, I don't think it's any different the second race than it was the first race, so I think our Chevy will be solid there."

You are currently 10th in points, and although you are not out of the Championship Chase, you and the No. 39 team have a hurdle to overcome being 223 points behind the leader right now. What do you need to do to get back in the hunt for the Chase for the Sprint Cup?

"We're still six races out and, in my opinion, that's a lot of time. You throw in the wild cards like Talladega and Martinsville, and there's still a lot that can happen. Honestly, at these tracks and in these races, you just never know what is going to happen. We had a rough Kansas City where we finished 22nd, and I really think we were better than 15th most of the race last weekend at California, but we ended up getting shuffled back on that last restart. We just have to go back and do our things we were successful at when we were running in the top-five every week, which was back in the spring when we got our second-place finish at Charlotte.

"I feel like we haven't capitalized on different situations when we could have, and that's one of the biggest things for us right now. With six races to go, we have to capitalize on every opportunity we have. This is obviously a very tight Chase and every position on the track will make the difference between first and second place in the points."

You and Jeff Gordon both have special paint schemes this weekend helping to promote the DVD release of TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen. One of the cars represents good and one of the cars represents evil. Can you talk a little bit about your special paint scheme and what it means to you?

"We're the good guys, and to me, that's a bonus because the good guy is always supposed to win. Actually, I'm Optimus Prime with the No. 39 Chevrolet, and he's the leader of the peace-loving Autobots in the Transformers. We'll have to avoid the bad guys at some point during the night and, hopefully, we can not only avoid the bad guys, but beat them and be the last one standing at the end of the day. For me, I'm glad to be a part of the promotion which Paramount is doing around the DVD release on Oct. 20. It's cool for me, personally, because I think the drivers who are my age used to have the Transformers toys as a kid and I remember watching the cartoon, so this is part of my childhood coming to life. And I think it's really cool to connect to kids out there who are NASCAR fans and who like the Transformers, too."

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

Charlotte was really the best overall race weekend for the No. 39 team during the spring. You won the pole and finished second there. How does knowing that you are going back with a car that ran so well there in the spring help this team?

"We were really good at Charlotte in the spring. We're taking back the same car we ran in the All-Star Race, and that was a really good car. Had we not gotten tangled up with Kyle (Busch) and Jeff (Gordon) there at the end of the race, which led to us cutting a tire and really ended our night, I would have liked to have seen what would have happened.

"For us, we weren't looking forward to California last weekend. We really thought that track would be our Achilles heel, and we ended up running better than expected. We didn't finish great, but we were in a position to finish in the top-10 at the end of the race had we not gotten shuffled back on that last restart. Our setup there last weekend was better than it had been. We were more competitive, and Ryan was happy with the overall balance of the car and its drivability. The guys had a good day in the pits all day long, too. So to leave there with a top-15 was better than we had anticipated in the beginning.

"Now, to be going back to Charlotte knowing that we ran well there in the spring gives us some additional confidence heading into the weekend. Just because we ran well there in the spring doesn't mean it's going to be easier when we head back there this weekend, but it definitely boosts our confidence. I like the racetrack a lot, and it's a track where we know that Ryan has had success. For us right now, the key is to go there and shine. We need to qualify well and run well this weekend, and I think that will help us build some momentum. We're heading into a part of the schedule that I really like and Ryan really likes, and a part of the schedule where we expect to perform well, so if we can run well and get some momentum, I'm really confident in what we can accomplish."

The No. 39 team is 223 points back with six races remaining in the Chase. A lot of people look at that point differential and say this team is out of the hunt for the Championship, but you have a different outlook on that. Can you talk about that?

"We were further back than that after the second Dover, when Alan (Kulwicki) came back and won the championship. I know the competition has changed a lot since then, and I know it is tighter, but it also taught me that you can overcome any point deficit. I'm a believer and a fighter, and I experienced it first-hand in 1992 when I was with Alan. Nobody gave us a snowball's chance in hell that year, and we did it.

"We're not going to give up. Is it going to be harder because of the point deficit we have? Absolutely, but that doesn't change the fact that I believe and this team believes we are still in it. I think the other teams in the Chase are going to have to have their problems, too. We have a stretch of races where we were good earlier this year, and we're going back there with the goal of finishing as good or better than that this time around. And that's all we can do. We can't fret about our past. We can just work to make our future better.

"Making this Chase was a huge accomplishment for this team and for the entire Stewart-Haas organization. We want to win the championship, and I believe we still can. Our goal is to finish as high in points as we can and continue to build on that for the years to come."

-credit: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Ryan Newman
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Team Penske