RYAN NEWMAN Second Verse, Same as the First -- Only Better KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Feb. 3, 2010) -- Ryan Newman will be the first to tell you that he didn't know what to expect this time last year. Newman, who until last season had spent his entire...
Second Verse, Same as the First -- Only Better
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Feb. 3, 2010) -- Ryan Newman will be the first to tell you that he didn't know what to expect this time last year.
Newman, who until last season had spent his entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career with the same team, had no idea what would happen. In fact, Newman didn't set expectations for himself or his new Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team.
Although the eight-year series veteran admits he wasn't sure what the season would hold for him and the No. 39 Haas Automation team, Newman was very sure about one thing. He had made the right decision to join co-owner and teammate Tony Stewart's fledgling team, which was built on the foundation of the former Haas-CNC Racing.
Newman knew there would be a learning curve for everybody involved. He had never driven a Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He and crew chief Tony Gibson had done little more than chitchat about hunting or fishing while standing in the garage during rain delays prior to their being paired together at SHR. Now, the two would have to learn how to communicate about the racecar, what it was doing on the track and how to make it better. And, just as importantly, Newman would have to study up and learn a lot of new faces and names.
None of that mattered to Newman. He believed to his core that his move -- a move that so many considered a risk -- was the right move.
But not even Newman could have imagined how good his first season with Gibson and the No. 39 team would be. Newman secured a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, finishing ninth in the points. Although the team didn't win a race, he came close to victories on several occasions only to be thwarted in the closing laps. Newman scored two poles -- Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in May and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in October -- five top-five and 15 top-10 finishes. And both Newman and Stewart each completed a series-leading 10,468 of 10,492 possible laps over the 36 points-paying races, an incredible 99.8 percent.
Impressive stats for a first-year team. But, more importantly to Newman, he had fun.
This week, Newman, Gibson & Company embark on their second season together, starting with the non-points-paying Budweiser Shootout at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Saturday night.
And, this time around, the 2008 Daytona 500 champion and his team do have expectations for the season ahead. They want another year just like the 2009 season -- only they want it to be better. Their goals are simple -- to win poles, to win races, and to make the Chase so that they have a shot at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing
The Budweiser Shootout will kick off your second season with Stewart-Haas Racing. Talk about how far this team has come since its inaugural year in 2009, and your expectations for 2010.
"We have a lot of great things that we have done from a people standpoint and from a car standpoint to prepare ourselves for 2010. And last year, the biggest transition for me, and I think for Tony (Stewart), as well, was getting to know everybody. My biggest thing is I know 99 percent of the people in the shop, now, and I had no clue who most of them were last year. But, in general, it's a lot more relaxing in reference to knowing people. It's relaxing knowing what to expect, chemistry-wise, with simple things like when we are installing a new seat in the car -- a little different style, a little safer one -- I know who the guys are that are working on it, and we can be more direct and we can be more precise with the things that we are doing. It's not a wait-and-see kind of relationship.
"Last season and during the off-season, I got the chance to spend time with my crew chief Tony Gibson. Spending that time together, especially in the offseason, I think, is really going to be valuable to our team. I think the more you can understand and have a friend in a crew chief and a driver or anybody on the team, the more successful you are going to be. Whether it's going out hunting or fishing or going to see a movie with his wife and my wife and the two of us, it's important to have that relationship. It's important to be able to say anything to the person who basically is in control of how successful you are in respect to your job. You know, Tony has done a great job of leading the team, the new team that we had last year, and what we do in the offseason makes a big difference in how we start the new season, in my eyes."
You didn't get the chance to race in the Budweiser Shootout last year because of a different set of rules as to how you drivers were awarded a spot in the race. How important is racing in the Shootout, in your opinion?
"I was really disappointed when I didn't get the chance to race in the Budweiser Shootout last year. Every year prior to that, it had focused on pole winners from the previous season. So, I had been fortunate enough to be in the race every year of my career -- even my rookie year, since I had won a pole when I was running a limited schedule. That was an honor to me, and it was cool because it was recognizing a pole win, which is a big deal. I remember that whenever I would get my first pole each year, one of the first things I would say was that I had my spot in the Shootout. Anyhow, since I wasn't in the race, I stood in Tony's (Stewart) pit the entire night with a headset on. I watched the race, listened to him, paid attention to tire wear, that kind of stuff. It's a cool race to watch, but I would much rather be part of it.
"I'm just glad that I am in the Shootout this time around. Since I was a driver in the Chase, I got a spot, but I guess the way the rules are, now, they could have given me one for my Daytona 500 win in 2008. Either way, it's pretty cool. I'm really happy to be racing in the Shootout this year. To me, it's a valuable race because of the extra seat time that we get. We get a couple of more practices and, of course, we have the race. We can learn a lot in those few hours as a team that could be really important to us the rest of the week and even during the 500 the following Sunday. I know that my crew chief Tony Gibson will be taking a lot of notes about what works and what doesn't, so we are on top of our game for the Daytona 500. I guess you could say being in the Shootout is a nice bonus. I think all the guys are pumped to kickoff our season with the No. 39 Haas Automation team in the Shootout. It's a fun race. The shorter races always lead to a lot of fireworks, so it should be a cool night. We didn't have the best Speedweeks last year, and we'd like to start off a little bit better this time."
You have won at Daytona in an ARCA car and you won the Daytona 500 in 2008. Talk about racing at Daytona and what a win at such a historic track means to you. Also, how important is it to kick off the season with a good run at Daytona?
"I think racing at Daytona has actually gotten better since I've been involved with the sport. I don't know if it's because the asphalt keeps wearing out that much more or this new car has added that much more of a challenge, handling-wise, to that racetrack. But, man, you have to stay on top of the racecar the entire time at that racetrack. Even on new tires, it can be a handful. It's fun because of that. It's fun because it allows us to separate out and actually race, versus being stuck in a pack and hitting bumper to bumper and figure out who is going to get the best push, as we do at Talladega. I look forward to Daytona. I think it's one of our better racetracks that we go to over certain intermediate racetracks. It just provides better racing.
"Winning at Daytona was an incredible experience. I won the ARCA race there in 2001, but nothing will ever compare to winning the 50th Running of the Daytona 500 in 2008. That was a dream-come-true. It was the culmination of everything that me and my family had sacrificed for all those years of building my racing career and to getting me to that moment. I still get speechless when I talk about it. But winning one Daytona isn't the goal. You want to win every race. It's obviously the biggest win of my career and it was a great day, and great to just have the opportunity to go back, because I believe Dale Jarrett had said the second one can be sweeter than the first. So I'm looking forward to getting down to Daytona and trying to get that second Daytona 500 win. But it would be pretty cool to get the other wins that I haven't gotten there before, too. I would love to start my season with a Budweiser Shootout win.
"As far as having a good run at Daytona, I know that it's important and it's nice to start the season well, but we proved last year that we don't need to. You want to, obviously. Everybody wants to. Daytona is the biggest race, and we start with it, but when it comes down to the end of the season, it's about consistency and it's about teamwork and it's about reliability, as well. Our team did a great job in 2009. I think it was 99.8 percent of all laps that both cars completed, and that's phenomenal. That's phenomenal for any team -- any organization -- and I think our guys did a great job for a new organization to be able to achieve that from a mechanical standpoint."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing
Last year, the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing team was left out of the Shootout because of the rule change. This year, Ryan Newman and the team will compete in Saturday night's Shootout. What kind of advantage does being part of the Shootout give you as a crew chief and the team as a whole as you prepare for the rest of Daytona Speedweeks?
"Being in the Budweiser Shootout is definitely an advantage for the team as a whole. It speeds up the process of getting your race trim figured out for the Daytona 500, which is obviously our sport's crown jewel. We weren't in the Shootout last year. And when you're not part of the Shootout, you basically sit around for three days working on nothing but qualifying. You don't get to really run and try out your car in race trim until the following Wednesday. Then, the next day is the Duel. So, basically, if you aren't in the Shootout, you have one day -- that Wednesday after qualifying -- to get your race package figured out. Not only does it help us figure out the race package, but it gives our pit crew extra practice in race conditions and it's kind of like a free race for all of us to make sure we are on top of our game. So, it really is a huge advantage to run the Shootout.
"Whether you're bad or good, it gives you an opportunity to learn what does and doesn't work, to make your car better for Thursday's races. It really helps a lot. The past few years, the Shootout has been especially helpful because the Daytona 500 has gone into the night and the Shootout is at night. So, it kind of helped to learn that balance shift and what the racetrack is going to do. And we were able to learn about how the track would be during the day with our practice and the Duels. So we could take the notes from both and see the difference between the racetrack and how it will change. I don't know how big of a help that will be this year, since the Daytona 500 starts earlier. But we will be using a lot of our notes from the Shootout in hopes that it helps us make out car stronger for the 500."
So, in your eyes, the Budweiser Shootout is almost like a study session for the Daytona 500. That being said, how do you approach this race? It isn't the All-Star race, but it is similar. So, do you go all out for the Shootout? Is it the same mentality -- the win-or-wreck approach that we have seen at the All-Star race in the past?
"The Shootout is different from the All-Star race because I don't think you want to put yourself in the position to tear your car up. I mean, there will be the opportunity to do that and somebody may make a move that causes that to happen. But I don't think this is a race where you are going to go five-wide to wreck it going into turn three. I think you're going to be a little more cautious on that side of it because, for most of these teams, the Shootout car may be their backup car for the Daytona 500. Most of these teams will take three cars to Daytona. They will have their primary Daytona 500 car, their Shootout car, which is also their backup Daytona 500 car, and a second backup, just in case. That's kind of the way we've got our deal planned out this year.
"And, of course, last year, our teammates on the No. 14 car ended up running their Shootout car in the Daytona 500 because they wrecked with us in final practice. So, I don't think we go into the Shootout saying, 'Well, we can wreck and give up a racecar.' It's not worth it. I would rather play to the cautious side. I think we will know pretty quickly in that race, because it is so short, whether we have a car that can win or not. So we'll see what happens from that point, but our goal for the Shootout is to take care of our racecar and learn what we can. We want to work to make our 500 car the best it can be because that's the one that's going to pay the points, and our notes from the Shootout will be valuable for that."
The Shootout is the first challenge of Speedweeks. Last year, Speedweeks was the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing team's first race weekend together. Although the team had a fast car, it was a pretty stressful week for the entire team, where nothing seemed to go your way. This team knows what can go wrong at Daytona. How do you put that out of your mind as you head to Daytona for your second Speedweeks as a team? And how far has this team come from that first weekend together?
"I don't think I will ever forget that week. Nobody who was part of this team and this organization will forget that week -- at least I don't think they will, no matter how hard we may try. It's there in the back of your mind. It seemed like if anything could go wrong or if anything was going to happen, it did to us that weekend. But if there is anything good that does come out of that, it made our team stronger. We learned and we know that we can overcome adversity like that, and I think that was a valuable lesson that really helped us through all of last season. It's something that we have with us forever, really. This team has come such a long way since that first weekend last year. We built a lot of character. For me and Ryan, we've gained a lot more trust in each other. Our communication is better and our friendship is stronger. I think that can be said for Ryan and the crew, too. They have definitely developed a stronger relationship with Ryan. I take all that stuff to be a plus. To go through all the crap that we went through in Daytona last year, with our deal being new to everybody, it was pretty incredible. Nobody quit. There wasn't complaining or anything like that. We just all dug deep and worked together to get through the rest of the week and do the best we could with the cards we were dealt -- the driver and the team.
"We're strong this year. If that happens again, we are better prepared now, obviously, than we were last year. We have a third or second backup car this time, which is actually the car that we took as our primary car for the Daytona 500 in 2009. It's the same car that we qualified third with and then got tore up in the Duels. But it was a strong car and, when we got in the wreck, we were in a position to win the race. So, we have a better third car than we had last time. I just think we are better prepared for that kind of situation if it occurs again. Hopefully, it won't. But regardless, we will remember it. You never get it out of your head. I'll remember that until the day that I die, that's for sure."
You grew up in Daytona Beach. What would getting a win in the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday to kick off Speedweeks in your hometown mean to you? Not only would it be the first race win of the season, but it would be the No. 39 team's first win.
"That would be awesome. To win any race is big, no matter where and no matter what. To kick off Speedweeks with a win at my home track, and for the No. 39 team to get its first win together in the first race of 2010, would be special. You know, when you go to Speedweeks each year, there are four goals that you want to accomplish when you go down there -- win the Shootout, sit on the front row, win your Duel and win the Daytona 500. I've been there before, and we've won three of them, so it can be done. Guys have done it before, so it can be done. And we have just as good a shot as anybody. So, the first goal at hand is to win the Shootout, and that would be awesome. I can't think of a better way to build momentum for the rest of Speedweeks.