RYAN NEWMAN Looking for 'Lady Luck' in Las Vegas LAS VEGAS (Feb. 25, 2009) - Ryan Newman knows the odds. Two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races are in the books for his Stewart-Haas Racing team in 2009, and in both races, something has kept a ...
Looking for 'Lady Luck' in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS (Feb. 25, 2009) - Ryan Newman knows the odds. Two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races are in the books for his Stewart-Haas Racing team in 2009, and in both races, something has kept a strong-performing No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet from finishing the race on the lead lap. Odds are that Newman's luck behind the wheel of the No. 39 Chevy is bound to change. He just doesn't know when or how.
Newman is a numbers guy with an engineering degree from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. He knows it's just a matter of time before some good luck comes his way. He knows what's in the cards. And what better place to have his luck turn around than Las Vegas? For it's a city in which people rely on the luck of the draw more than any other place in the world.
Newman has one pole (2005), one top-five and four top-10 finishes in eight career Sprint Cup starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. His best finish at the 1.5-mile oval was a fourth-place effort during his rookie season in 2002.
This weekend will mark Newman's third start with Stewart-Haas Racing, which is co-owned by two time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart and Haas Automation, the largest CNC tool manufacturer in the western world. And Newman hopes that means the third time to the racetrack with his new team will be the charm as they get their first test at one of the 1.5-mile "cookie cutter" tracks that dominate the Sprint Cup schedule. For a driver with a penchant for going fast and qualifying up front, these banked, fast racetracks are right up his alley.
Although Newman isn't a gambler, he's willing to bet that the luck of his No. 39 team is going to change. Maybe with a little "Lady Luck" on his side, that change in luck will begin with his qualifying effort Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Your team has had a rough couple of weeks in the luck column. How much does luck play into racing, and how do you handle a run of bad luck like your team has had at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.?
"It has definitely been an interesting couple of weeks for the team. You want to sit back and just say 'What else?' But you have to keep on working through it. Luck is a big part of racing. You can have the best car at the track all day, have a huge lead and have some freak issue occur one corner from the end of the race - and that's it. You went from the first car to the last car. Unfortunately, we've been on the bad luck side of things for the last two races. It isn't the first time I've had bad luck. I'm just ready for my luck to change.
"A few years ago, my friend Buddy Baker bought me a little stuffed animal. It was a monkey, and he bought it for me because he said I needed to get it off my back. Well, I think it has reattached. At California, we had the transponder stop working. We lost our track position when one of our end plates broke off the rear wing. Then, about 15 laps from the end, we caught a windshield tear-off smack dab on the grill and it pegged both gauges, so I had to come back in and we lost another lap. We've had some really snake-bitten luck. The only thing that I can tell the guys is that our luck will change. The bad part is we don't know when, but we do know that on the other side of bad luck is a streak of good luck. So, as a team, we have to keep hitting our marks, pushing the pedals and stay focused on what the job is and that's to make the car go fast."
Aside from the bad luck and everything that has happened, how is it working with this new team and your crew chief, Tony Gibson?
"I think for us, California was our first true test of the year. We got a good opportunity to experience race conditions and what the car was like at a bigger racetrack. That was really important for us because those bigger tracks are the backbone of our entire schedule - the intermediate tracks. We have another good test this weekend at Las Vegas. It's obviously going to take a little bit of time for everything to click within our team because we are learning each other, but I think we've got a good start. Tony (Gibson) and I had a friendship based on similar interests before we paired up together on the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet. I think knowing that we had a lot of hobbies in common, like fishing and hunting, helped us to communicate early on. Now, we have more practice and race experience, which is helping us to communicate better about the car. We're still learning each other. He's learning how loose my idea of loose is, which helps him determine how big of a swing he needs to take at fixing the handling issues of the car. I'm working on giving the team as much input as I can on what I was feeling and what I think might help, rather than just telling them what to do. With each minute we have on the track, I really think that I can see improvement in our communication. Aside from the stuff that has gone on around us, I feel that we have a really good start on our driver/crew chief/team relationship. We've had some crazy, crazy luck, but that cycles in any kind of racing."
Talk about Las Vegas.
"Well, I don't think you will see any of my guys testing their luck at the tables this weekend. With the luck we've had, Tony Gibson and I talked about it and we are afraid that we would either lose all our money or we would use up what good luck is coming our way. So, either way, we're going to refrain from gambling. But there's nothing wrong with spending a few days in 'Sin City.' A lot of the team guys and me went to see (comedian) Carrot Top's act, and he was pretty funny. Krissie (Newman, wife) has done some shopping and we have both enjoyed a day at the spa. All in all, it's just been some nice down time to have. As far as the track goes, they've made some changes to it over the past few years. The track is higher-banked. It has a rougher surface in that there's more bumps. The track has some character to it. Over the past couple of years, the bumps in the track have typically been pretty tricky. But I'm looking forward to Las Vegas. I'm really hoping that this is the place for my luck to change."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Intermediate tracks are the backbone of the Sprint Cup schedule. How important is it for you to do well this weekend at Las Vegas, since this is first of the 1.5-mile tracks we visit?
"This is a huge weekend for us. First of all, just turning our luck around would be a big deal. If we could walk away with a top-10 finish on Sunday, I would be tickled pink. In fact, I think that everyone on this team would feel really good about an accomplishment like that given our past few weeks. But it's a big weekend also because Las Vegas is the first of the cookie-cutter-type racetracks that we go to throughout the year. The tracks are all different and each have their own unique characteristics, but how we run this weekend gives us a baseline to see where our intermediate program is at this point - where we are strong and where we need to improve. This weekend will give us an idea on Atlanta, Charlotte, Texas and other tracks, which is key to the rest of the season. As important as it is to look ahead to those races, we are 100 percent focused on how our No. 39 Hass Automation Chevrolet will perform this weekend at Las Vegas."
How difficult is this California and Las Vegas swing on the teams and how do you work through it?
"I'm not going to lie - this is a really tough part of the schedule for us. We were in Daytona for two weeks. Then we get back to the race shop for a couple of days and then we have California and Las Vegas back-to-back. It's tough because you're away from home. You're away from your family. It's difficult, but everybody does it and we just have to work to get through it. We drove out here on Monday morning from California and we've been working in Brendan Gaughan's shop out at the racetrack to get ready for this weekend. We've been trying to chill out a little bit, which is good for the guys because they've been working so hard. I guess you can look at it as the playoffs in football. The teams that have bye weeks at the beginning of the playoffs seem to struggle when they have their first game. The team that keeps working and playing never seems to lose that momentum that got them in the playoffs to begin with. So, that's how we see it - we're working and keeping our hands on the racecar.
"I don't think many of us are gambling because we've had such rotten luck the past couple of weeks. But a big group of us, including Ryan and Tony (Stewart), went to see Carrot Top's show on Monday night and had a nice after-show dinner with him. He's a really funny guy and a NASCAR fan, and now he's a big Stewart-Haas fan. He's going to be at the racetrack and hanging out with the 39 and 14 teams on Sunday so, hopefully, he can give us some help with the luck thing."
What are the keys to Las Vegas Motor Speedway?
"The track has changed over the past few years, and since last year the tire has changed. The tire change is going to be the biggest obstacle to overcome just because you have to figure out how it is going to react to the car and the racetrack. The No. 5 Hendrick car came out here a month ago and did the Goodyear test, so we're using their notes and what they learned to give us a baseline to get started with the first practice on Friday. With the tire being different, we're probably going to start out in race trim on Friday just to get Ryan used to the tire and its differences. Then, hopefully, we can go out there Friday afternoon, get a good starting spot, have a clean race and leave Las Vegas with a good finish."
Bad luck aside, talk about the accomplishments of this team so far and how you and Ryan are gelling?
"The things that are happening to us, we can't control. We can only control the things that we can. Yes, it's tough and it's frustrating for all of us, but we just try and keep the attitude that our luck will turn around and those things that are biting us now will stop. When you have so much stuff happen to you like we have over the past couple of weeks, I think the guys on the team can't help but wonder, 'Why' or 'What else?' The most important thing is just trying to keep us upbeat. We know that we had a strong car in Daytona, and Ryan felt like his car at California was strong out of the box. So, we've had some positive out of each time we've been to the track. We just have to make sure that the bad luck doesn't overshadow the positive. These Haas Automation guys are working hard, and I am really proud of them. The communication between me and Ryan continues to improve with each run in practice. When we can get things turned around and our luck changed, I think that we're really going to have something."