Fontana II: Ryan Newman preview

RYAN NEWMAN No. 39 Team Shooting for 'Happily Ever After' at California KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 6, 2009) -- Being an engineering graduate of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army ...

No. 39 Team Shooting for 'Happily Ever After' at California

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 6, 2009) -- Being an engineering graduate of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), knows full well what it's like to hit the books.

Before taking the green flag for Sunday's Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Newman will be hitting the books -- literally -- as he enjoys a little story time with a group of Southern California school children.

Considering Newman and the No. 39 team are working feverishly toward a happy ending in their own story known as the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, the veteran driver might easily be tempted to venture off the pages of his assigned reading on Sunday and tell the kids a tale that goes something like this:

As the sun is setting on another NASCAR Sprint Cup race

It's the No. 39 Chevy setting the pace

The field whizzes by the flagstand once more

And the crowd goes wild as they race door to door

One lap to go and the action is wild and daring

The announcers are pumped, the crowd is roaring

High in the air, the checkered flag is flyin'

For the leader of the pack and the winner is Ryan!

Needless to say, Newman and his No. 39 team are hungry for that happy ending, for simply making the Chase four races ago at Richmond (Va.) International Speedway didn't' signal "The End" of their story for 2009. Securing a Chase spot was just the beginning.

Newman started the Chase with a seventh-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and a 10th-place finish at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Two top-10 finishes in those first two Chase races had Newman and his team on the right track toward their ultimate payoff and their "happily ever after" -- a celebration fit for a champion and his team in December at the NASCAR Sprint Cup awards banquet in Las Vegas.

However, Newman and his SHR crew were bitten by gremlins and stumbled last weekend at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, posting a 22nd-place finish. The finish dropped the No. 39 team two spots in the standings to ninth place, 164 points behind leader Mark Martin.

With their position in points and their ultimate championship goal now tenuous, Newman and his team are more determined than ever to rebound and get one happy ending they've been waiting for -- their first victory as a team. And there is no better place for that to happen than Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., the home track for sponsor and team co-owner Haas Automation. The company is headquartered in Oxnard, Calif., which is located 100 miles west of Auto Club Speedway.

Newman, who has one pole and four top-10 finishes in 13 Sprint Cup races at Auto Club Speedway, admits the 2-mile racetrack hasn't been one of his best in the past. However, with just seven races remaining before a champion is crowned, Newman and his team know that if they want the final page to say "happily ever after" before they close the book on the season, now is the time to make their move.

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

Kansas was a rough outing for you and the No. 39 team with respect to your position in the Chase. You finished 22nd and dropped two spots to ninth in the point standings. Can you assess what this means for you and the Chase?

"Yes, it was a rough day for us, but we are by no means out of the Chase. We really battled all day because we didn't have the track position we needed, and then we had some problems on pit road. So it was just a rough day all around, but that doesn't mean we're counting ourselves out. We just have to regroup, get our focus back, and head to California and get back on track. Prior to Kansas, I think we had a string of top-10 finishes. And that's what we need. Not only do we need top-10 finishes, but we need top-five finishes because, to be where we want to be, which is leading the points, we've got to improve our game. I guess that's the best way to say it. All year, this team has proved it doesn't give up, that it has a lot of fight, and I think we're going to have to keep proving that each week of the Chase. There are seven races to go. Yes, we have some ground to make up, but we can do it. I have faith in (crew chief) Tony Gibson, my team and in Stewart-Haas Racing. We just need to be better."

Talk about racing at Auto Club Speedway.

"Unfortunately, it's not one of my favorite places to go. I have not had the best record at Auto Club Speedway. The racetrack can be a lot of fun because it's a very smooth track and super fast, but I just haven't done all that well there throughout my career. Even in our first race there this spring, we had issue after issue. It's a track where a lot of times your team's strategy determines the finish because a lot of times it becomes a fuel mileage race. So we'll just have to see how the race plays out. "

This is a big weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing because Auto Club Speedway is a "home track" of sorts for team co-owner Haas Automation, which is based in nearby Oxnard, Calif. Talk about the importance of this race for you and the team.

"Everybody wants to be top dog on their home turf. So, obviously, our team knows how important this race is to our co-owner and our sponsor, Haas Automation. We want to make everyone involved with the company proud, and I don't think there is a better way to do that than to have a strong run on Sunday. Haas Automation has been involved in NASCAR for several years, but I think we have an opportunity to give them something they have not had before as a team sponsor and that's a win in the Sprint Cup Series."

On race day, you're going to take some time out and go read to school kids from Southern California. These are kids who successfully completed reading requirements set by their teachers, and then these students were rewarded with an opportunity to attend events at Auto Club Speedway. Talk about why you are doing this and why education is so important to you.

"I think a lot of people who are around me will tell you that I'm just a big kid, so going out and reading to the group of kids at Auto Club Speedway is going to be a really cool experience for me. But truthfully, kids are the future of everything we have, whether it's racing or families or the U.S. Army. I think it's important to have a good, positive influence for kids to look up to. I think that, being an educated racecar driver, I can be the positive influence on any kid. I've never read the book that I am going to read to the kids on Sunday, but I think it's a pretty cool deal and I'm excited to do it. My parents pushed me when I was a kid -- in a good way -- and they were very insistent from the time I started racing at 4½ that my school work always came before driving the car. Reading, math, whatever it was -- homework always came first. One day I can remember when I didn't want to go to school. I told my mom I didn't feel like going to school that day. My dad told me, 'If you don't want to go to school, there's not going to be any racing.'

"Just about every week, I'm part of an education program the Army does for high school kids, and I talk to them about the importance of getting their education and setting goals. To me, it is never too early to tell kids the importance of getting their college education. Although I knew I wanted to be a racecar driver, my parents insisted that I get an education to fall back on and, in the end, that is truly one of my greatest accomplishments -- getting that college degree.

"For me, my degree has just taken me to another level to understand the racecar, the physics part of it, the gravities and the way all the things work with the racecar mechanically. For me, my actual title is vehicle structure engineering. It's a mechanical backbone, but it gave me the opportunity to be flexible in school, and then I obviously have that diploma and that education to fall back on for the rest of my career.

"What you major in isn't what's going to make you the ultimately smart guy. It's the well-roundedness that you get out of any kind of further education that makes you a better person and will make you a smarter person in order to make more money and be happier in the future. I'm not saying it makes me smarter than everybody else, but it's made me a smarter person to the point that I tell anybody if you have the opportunity to go to college or to a university to get a further education, do it. So for me, going to talk to these kids for the U.S. Army each weekend, or going to read to the younger kids at the track this weekend, is really just kind of an honor. It's cool and I'm looking forward to it."

Since you are reading to kids, what was your favorite children's book growing up?

"The first thing that comes to mind is Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. I don't know why, other than I've always liked ham. But Dr. Seuss books were always fun to read. I just hope the kids enjoy the book that I read to them -- I don't do voices or anything when I'm reading, but maybe I need to. I don't want them to fall asleep or anything. They tell me I'm going to read Michael Recycle Meets Litter Bug Doug by Ellie Bethel. Sounds like a fun book, so we'll see how the kids think I do."

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

The No. 39 team did not have the finish it was looking for last week in Kansas. The 22nd-place finish dropped the team to ninth in points with seven races to go. Can you assess what the No. 39 team's position is in the Chase for the Championship right now, especially since the competition has been so close?

"I don't think we're anywhere near being out of it. Kansas was a bad race for us. We were way better than that, but circumstances put us out of contention, and that's what happened to us there. So a bad race for us was 22nd. Not everybody is going to have a bad race, and I realize that, but there will be others who will have worse finishes than 22nd as their bad finish.

"The simple thing to say is that we have to run better. Where we have been finishing in the top-10, we need to get finishes in the top-five. We just have to be better, and we know we are capable of that. We have to get top-five finishes and be consistent. In my opinion, we can't afford another Mulligan with as tight as this Chase is -- Kansas was our Mulligan. But I don't think we are out of it by any means. We still have Martinsville and Talladega coming up, and both of those are races where we could pick up 100 points easily. We just need to be better."

How do you and the No. 39 team rebound from a finish that was not what you had hoped for and get back on track for this weekend's race?

"We come back together as a team and we refocus and we let everybody know that we are not out of this Chase by any means. There are still seven races for us to get it done. In my opinion, it's just like our whole season has been for this team. Just when you start counting us out, that's when we really shine. It's happened that way all season from the very beginning. And we have proven time and again that we will fight like hell to the bitter end, and that's what we are going to do. This team has a lot of fight in it, more than a lot of teams out there and a lot of teams I have worked with in the past. They are determined and passionate, and they're not going to let one race get them down. We have a group of guys who are not going to give up, and that's something we have shown all season long. We know we have our work cut out for us a little bit more, but I don't think there's anyone on this team who will tell you we are out of it. We're fighters."

The first outing at Auto Club Speedway was not the greatest for the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet. In fact, it was kind of like an uphill battle. Discuss what happened that first race, and what it takes to have a good run at Fontana.

"We had a decent car when we were in California in February, but we were really set back from the start. We started further back than we wanted to because we got loose in qualifying. Then, at the very start of the race, we had the transponder issue where we had to come back down pit road to replace the transponder. And while all that was happening, we ended up with a loose wing mount plate. It was almost like we were out of it before we even started. We just never got the chance to show what we could do, which really was a shame.

"We're going back to California with a new car. We've never raced it before, but we tested it at Windshear a couple of weeks ago, and we are looking forward to getting out on the track with it. To run well at Fontana, it takes a lot of horsepower, and Stewart-Haas Racing isn't lacking in that, thanks to the engines we get from Hendrick Motorsports. I think Ryan will have the speed he needs to be successful at California. Auto Club Speedway is also a handling racetrack, and it takes a good aero package to get around the track. It's a really smooth track, and your aero package is really important. The group at Stewart-Haas Racing takes a lot of pride in working on the aerodynamics of the race car, so we feel very confident that we will have a solid setup when we unload our No. 39 Haas Automation / U.S. Army Chevy on Friday."

-credit: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ryan Newman , Mark Martin
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Hendrick Motorsports