Indianapolis: Ryan Newman preview

RYAN NEWMAN Hoping To Write His Own Piece of History at Indianapolis KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (July 22, 2009) - "You have to know the past to understand the present." - Dr. Carl Sagan When NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman walks through ...

Hoping To Write His Own Piece of History at Indianapolis

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (July 22, 2009) - "You have to know the past to understand the present." - Dr. Carl Sagan

When NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman walks through the garage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he can't help but think about the drivers who have come before him and whose footsteps he might be walking in as he makes his way to his racecar. And as he pilots the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS, Newman will undoubtedly be pondering whose tire tracks he could be following around the racetrack.

For Newman, it's the history of the 100-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway that makes this weekend's Allstate 400 at The Brickyard one of the most significant races he competes in each Sprint Cup Series season. He respects the great drivers who have made history at Indianapolis - A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Mel Kenyon, the list goes on and on - and he counts them as his heroes. The races that have been run at Indianapolis, he counts among his favorites.

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 divisions. 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.

Since he started driving quarter-midgets at the age of 4½, Newman has been a passionate student of the sport in which he now makes his living. And in Newman's opinion, there is no more significant track in the history of auto racing than Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Although Newman has never had the desire to get behind the wheel of an IndyCar, he remembers coming to watch an IndyCar race at the track as a little boy. And he recalls sneaking into the racetrack years later to meet some of NASCAR's stars the first time stock cars raced at the famed Brickyard.

Even Newman has made his own bit of racing history in Indianapolis - albeit across town at O'Reilly Raceway Park. His first major USAC win came in May 1997, when he drove the No. 39 Midget car to victory in the 52nd Night Before the 500 race at the .686-mile short track on the Saturday night prior to that year's Indianapolis 500.

At that time, it was the biggest win of Newman's young career, and one that he credits with putting him on the map. The prestigious win helped vault Newman into victory lane two more times that year in USAC Midgets. It also helped to land him a developmental ride in NASCAR just three years later.

This weekend, Newman wants to have another big night and add his name to the annals of history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In eight Sprint Cup starts, Newman has never started lower than eighth at Indianapolis. However, he only has one top-10 finish - a fourth-place effort in 2002.

The 2009 season has been history in the making for his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate and team owner Tony Stewart. Stewart became the first driver-owner to lead the points since Alan Kulwicki in 1992, and the first driver-owner since Ricky Rudd in 1998 to win a point-paying race when he won at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in June.

Newman has enjoyed recent success, as well. He currently sits seventh in the points with five top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 19 starts. Now, especially since he is a hometown boy and has teamed with a fellow Hoosier in Stewart, Newman would like to add his own significant, historic moment to the SHR mix and there would be no better place than the legendary oval in Indiana.

A win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be Newman's first at the track and first at SHR, Stewart's first as a car owner at the track and the first-ever win for the No. 39 - regardless of ownership - in Sprint Cup competition.

As Newman has said, there is nothing more remarkable than walking down the same path to pit lane as some of his heroes have over the years, whether it be IndyCar or NASCAR stars, and follow their racing line around the legendary 2.5-mile oval. The only thing more remarkable, of course, would be celebrating a win in his home state.

After testing three times at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Newman and the No. 39 team could have just the right combination to make history and give Stewart, a two-time winner at The Brickyard, his first opportunity to kiss the "Yard of Bricks" as a car owner.

RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation /U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

How much does Indianapolis Motor Speedway mean to you?

"This place means a lot. From a pure history of auto racing standpoint, that, to me, means the most. I'm a big racing historian. I like the history of the sport, and I've always said, to know people like A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Jim Hurtubise and Mel Kenyon, that all those people have been through here at some point, walking the same path out to the pit lane and driving the same line on the racetrack that I am, is something really special. To know that I'm stepping in their footprint as I walk to my racecar, that, to me is what's special. They're my heroes just as much as anybody else right now. I look forward to the race because of the history of auto racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I'm a big fan of the old Watson Roadsters from the '60s, and things like that. To me, it's cool that I'm driving in the same tire tracks that all the greats used to drive on."

What are your thoughts on racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

"Like I said, the history of all of auto racing here at this racetrack means more to me than anything else. It's a great race. It's a unique racetrack. We all know that. It's a lot of fun, especially when you're up front. It seems like the straightaways go on forever, and you can just sit there and relax and drive the racecar. The racetrack is really fun to drive. It's one of the hardest tracks to race, which is why some people love it and some people hate it. It's really a deal where if you have a fast racecar, you will have fun. If your car isn't fast, it's going to be a miserable day.

"I just look forward to going to Indy with our Haas Automation/U.S. Army Chevrolet and trying to run well. We're working our way to kind of solidify ourselves to be in the Chase. That's our goal at this point in the season, to make sure that we can lock up that position, or a position. Indianapolis is a great racetrack with a lot of great fans. And since both Tony and I are from this area, meaning Indiana, I think this year might be more fun and definitely busier for both of us. With the open-wheel side of things, the racing that we've done all across every part of Indiana, I would speculate there are very few racetracks in this state that either one of us hasn't raced at. So, coming home to race in Indiana at such a famed racetrack is really special. It's just a great place to come back and enjoy the racing and the fans."

Where would a win at Indianapolis and in your home state, rank for you?

"To me, Indianapolis ranks second to the Daytona 500. Not by much, but it is still second. This race hasn't been going on as long as the Daytona 500 has, and winning in the 50th running of the Daytona 500 was something that was really special to me because of all the past winners who were on hand in the driver's meeting for that race. I kept thinking of the history of the race and that my name was joining some outstanding drivers as Daytona 500 winners. It was very special.

"So the Daytona 500 is number one in my book. But there is more history here at Indianapolis as far as auto racing as a whole goes and the last 100 years. Winning a race at Indy would be very special because of the significance of the track in the history of auto racing. And it would be very special to win in my home state. This race holds a lot of weight. But to me, it's second."

Do you have a favorite story growing up, or maybe even as a driver, from this racetrack?

"I would come around a little bit when the IndyCars ran here. I came to one race when I was probably about 6 years old, and it got rained out. It was the year it rained until, I think, Tuesday, and I had to go back to school.

"But for me, one of the coolest things ever wasn't at a race. I was down here with my mom. I forget if we were picking up tires at Hoosier or what we were doing, and we drove by the racetrack and we heard a different noise, and it was the stock cars. I couldn't stand it. I had to go inside and see it. So, we snuck into the racetrack and came over and talked to Jeff Gordon and some other drivers, and it was just neat because we got to be here first-hand for when the stock cars hit the racetrack. That was a really big deal to me because racing in Indiana was always open-wheel cars, and I was a big NASCAR fan and I got to see them in my home state. It was in the early '90s, but the bottom line was that it was cool to hear it and see it and remember it, and now I'm here racing stock cars."

Yours was one of the teams that tested for Goodyear at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You and the No. 39 team tested on three different occasions. Talk about what you expect out of the tires this time around at Indianapolis?

"It was my third test this year, and Tony (Stewart) and the No. 14 team did one of the tests, as well. From where I'm sitting, it was nice to be able to go to do a Goodyear tire test like this one. Most teams look forward to going to do a Goodyear tire test, where you go and validate the tire they have chosen. Or, maybe they will have an alternate tire and, in the end, you learn a little bit about the racetrack, you help Goodyear out, you go home and you had a good day. Going to Indy three times was not the ideal thing to do. We knew we were struggling through a tire situation. And, obviously, Indy has different challenges with the grinding of the racetrack, but the tire itself is great. I don't think any of us wanted it to take as long as it did and to have as many tests as we did at the track, but we all had one goal, and that was to get a tire that will allow us to put on a good race for the fans. Goodyear did a good job of finally getting a tire that, I think, is going to help get the racing back to the way it was at Indianapolis prior to our issues there. Indy is not the raciest racetrack we go to, but you can make passes. You can work your way to front. This tire is going to help us and, in the end, I don't think the fans will go home disappointed."

TONY STEWART, Owner of the No. 39 Haas Automation /U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

Winning your first Brickyard race was special and you'll never forget it, but how would winning it with your own team compare to your first Brickyard win?

"It would be awesome. I know how gratifying it was to win the All-Star race at Charlotte earlier this year. I remember when a perfect example was the first year we won the Chili Bowl, which is the biggest Midget race in the country, I won it for a couple of good friends of mine, Keith Kunz and Pete Willoughby, and then we were able to win it two years later, and it was the first time I had won it driving my car. You know, it's just an unbelievable feeling knowing that you've had a hand in helping build it, build the program.

"So it would be awesome. It was a dream come true. It's always been a dream to win in Indianapolis, and I've been very blessed and fortunate to win it twice, now, and that's something that, if I died tomorrow, I would die a happy man because of those two races.

"But it would be that much more special to win it as a team owner, too. It's been so much fun working with this group of guys, and even if I didn't win it, if Ryan won the race, I would have the same feeling of gratification just being a part of it and being able to help Ryan realize his dream. I think it would mean just as much to be the winning car owner for Ryan as it would be for me to win it as a driver and owner."

-credit: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman , Mario Andretti , Parnelli Jones , A.J. Foyt , Alan Kulwicki
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing