RYAN NEWMAN !Hoping to Engineer His Place in Darlington's History Books KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (May 4, 2010) -- As a college graduate, Ryan Newman isn't just any ordinary NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. The nine-year Sprint Cup Series veteran not...
RYAN NEWMAN !Hoping to Engineer His Place in Darlington's History Books
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (May 4, 2010) -- As a college graduate, Ryan Newman isn't just any ordinary NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.
The nine-year Sprint Cup Series veteran not only has immense talent behind the wheel of his No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet, but he also has a deep understanding of the workings of his racecar thanks, in large part, to his engineering degree from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
Newman credits his education with helping him achieve some of the success he has had in the Sprint Cup Series, including 14 wins since arriving on the NASCAR scene during the 2000 season.
But Newman's scholarly ways didn't get left behind in the classroom when he graduated from Purdue in 2001. Newman considers himself a student of the sport that he loves.
The South Bend, Ind., native prides himself on being a historian of not just NASCAR, but of auto racing in general. Through the years, Newman has studied and put to memory stories about racetracks, racecars and the greatest races of all time in a variety of racing disciplines. He has an immense knowledge of the history of auto racing and an even more profound appreciation for the drivers who have come before him, and those he races with today.
When Newman won the 50th Running of the Daytona 500 in February 2008, the 32-year-old commented that one of the most remarkable moments for him was to see all the past Daytona 500 champions in the driver's meeting on that Sunday morning. Newman had played with their die cast cars and collected their trading cards as a child. Now, he had joined their elite group as a Daytona winner. His appreciation of the past helped him to realize the magnitude of the moment as he stood in the sport's most famous victory lane.
Studying the sport, knowing the tire tracks in which he follows and respecting this history is something Newman considers to be vitally important to him as a driver.
This weekend's Sprint Cup race -- the Showtime Southern 500 -- at the famed Darlington (S.C.) Raceway is one of sport's most renowned races at one of the most historic racetracks. But the Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver doesn't want to simply appreciate the legendary racetrack and the incredible races that have been held there. Newman wants to add his name to the history books as a winner of one of NASCAR's oldest traditions -- the Southern 500.
Of the racetracks the series visits each year, Newman ranks the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval among his favorites. One look at his record there and it's easy to see why he likes the track so much. In 11 starts, Newman has one pole (2003), and he has started outside of the top-10 just three times.
His results have been just as impressive. Although Newman hasn't recorded a win at the "Track Too Tough to Tame," he has six top-five and seven top-10 finishes. Last season, Newman finished fourth in his first Darlington start for SHR.
Just four races ago, Newman scored his first win with SHR at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., which was also the first win for crew chief Tony Gibson and the first-ever victory for the No. 39 car in Sprint Cup history.
Newman would like to continue his history-making season with his No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala this weekend at his favorite racetrack.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
In your opinion, what is the significance of Darlington Raceway and what would it mean for you to get a win in the Southern 500 this weekend?
"I think, when drivers look at the schedule, there are always a handful of races that stand out, where you know that you want to be the best on that day or night at that racetrack. Darlington and the Southern 500 is one of those races for me. I would say that, for me, personally, it ranks right up there with the Daytona 500, the Brickyard and the Coca-Cola 600 as a race that I want to win before I retire. I've always considered myself to be a driver who appreciates the history of our sport and someone who respects the drivers, the races, really everything that has come before us. The Southern 500 is part of this sport's heritage. It's tradition. It has been such an important race and the track has been a legendary place to race that, to be added to the list of drivers what have won it -- like David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty -- is a dream of mine. I've been close to winning a Southern 500, and it's definitely a goal of mine to get a win at Darlington."
You often say that Darlington is one of your favorite racetracks -- if not your favorite racetrack -- on the Sprint Cup Series circuit. What is it about Darlington that you love so much?
"I have always loved racing at Darlington since the first time I went and tested there when I was at Penske Racing. I think some people and drivers are entirely intimidated going to that racetrack. Some drivers absolutely hate it. But it's one of my favorites, if not my favorite. I always said it was my favorite when it was the old asphalt. Racing-wise, I've always said Darlington is not the perfect racetrack. To me, it's my favorite racetrack to drive. But, racing-wise, going three- and four-wide, you're not going to see it at Darlington. It's going to be a very important track-position race in the sense that, if you're out front, it's going to be easier to stay out front because it's difficult to pass there. It's always been a give-and-take racetrack. It's a give-and-take racetrack when it comes to passing. Probably, it has always been my favorite track because you are always adjusting. You adjust to the tires, the character of the track. The fact that you are running right next to the wall is challenging. It's the most challenging track we have and that is why I enjoy it the most. I haven't thought it was as much fun since they repaved it, but I think the racing was better last year than it was the year before, and I think it will be better again this time around. It is still a great racetrack.
"For me, the other reason Darlington is a favorite of mine is because of the rich history that the track has. There are so many great stories about the great races that occurred there and the drivers who were part of it. It's just an amazing place if you are a history buff about the sport. For me, personally, I would have to say my favorite memory at Darlington was probably in 2001 in the Nationwide Series. I'm not sure which race it was there, but I think we won the pole that weekend by, like, four-tenths of a second. That was a pretty special memory for me. I've had some good runs in the Cup Series, too, but that's one of the coolest memories I have of Darlington."
What are the characteristics of Darlington that give drivers such headaches?
"I don't know that headache is a fair term. Like I said, for me, this is one of my favorite racetracks. It's a challenge, and I love that about it. But I think one of the things that is such a challenge is it's the only racetrack we go to on the entire schedule -- including road courses -- where you accelerate into the turn. You let off on the straightaway going into turn one, then you accelerate up the hill. It's unique all to its own at Darlington to have that characteristic, and that is something that stands out to me. I think the track used to be even more unique before they repaved it in 2008. It was in a small group of tracks with Rockingham, when we had Rockingham, because the asphalt was similar, the tire was exact. You had to race the racetrack. I think it's changed a little bit. You have to race the racetrack at Darlington, still, only because it's so narrow and not necessarily because the grip changes so much. Since they have repaved the track, there's much more grip, so the tires aren't quite as big of an issue. It's still a fun place to drive, though, because of how you have to hustle the racecar and now it's just a bit more challenging because of the speeds. I'm looking forward to this weekend."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about the significance of Darlington Raceway and the Southern 500 and what it means to you.
"It's a cool race. I've won it a couple of times. It's one of the races that everyone wants to win, especially now since we only go there once. The history behind the racetrack and the race is awesome. It's a tough racetrack on the drivers, the car and everything else. To win there -- just to run top-five there -- is pretty impressive. Ryan runs really well there. We ran fourth there last year and led close to 50 laps, so I think it's a pretty good track for our team. Other than Talladega, our past month has been really good for us. So, hopefully with the momentum we have and Ryan's record there, we'll be able to go Darlington, run well, and get another top-five."
How difficult is Darlington for a crew chief?
"It's different because, obviously, there are two different bankings. One corner is tighter than the other. Your bump stop loads aren't the same in both corners. It's challenging. Turn one and two is really the area you have to focus on because you just about have to run wide open through there, especially for qualifying. It's a little challenging, but it's fun, too."
How much has the track changed since it was repaved in 2008? Does that change how you approach the racetrack and the race as a crew chief?
"It's really just changed the grip level. The grip level is way up so your speeds are way up. The tires don't fall off like they used to. It's less challenging now than it was before. Back then, the driver would run five laps and they were out of control. Now, guys can run on two tires for a while. But that will go away eventually as the pavement gets some age to it and it will be back to the old Darlington.
"It hasn't really changed how we approach it. The grip level still goes away during a run. It's just a little more manageable, now. Last year, I think we ran the last 140 laps on our left-side tires. Goodyear has a new tire this time. It's really similar to last year's tire. It just has a little construction change. I don't know that you can run that far on lefts this year like we did last year, but I still think you will see a lot of two-tire stops again this year just because of the grip level of the racetrack."
You mentioned how this has been a good month-and-a-half for the No. 39 Haas Automation team. Minus the wreck in Talladega, which happened in the closing laps of that race, the No. 39 team has not finished lower than 11th in four of the past five races. Is it too early to look at points and pay attention to that?
"We look at points every week. We have to. You can't wait until the last three races to try to get into the Chase. You need to be in it. We think about it every week. We try to lead laps or at least lead one lap to get our five bonus points. We just try to get as many points as we can each race. It's about 26 races -- not 36. We're coming up on race 11 this weekend at Darlington, so we know we have to dig to get into the top-12."