Loudon: Dodge - Ryan Newman interview

RYAN NEWMAN (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge Intrepid) NOTE: Newman has been one of the hottest drivers on the circuit the past seven races. He has five top fives, including two victories during that stretch. The seven-race segment has allowed Newman to climb...

RYAN NEWMAN (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge Intrepid) NOTE: Newman has been one of the hottest drivers on the circuit the past seven races. He has five top fives, including two victories during that stretch. The seven-race segment has allowed Newman to climb from 27th to 16th in the series standings. Newman is tied for most victories on the circuit with three this season. He leads the way with four poles, and he's fresh off a victory last week at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Newman also won the rain-shortened New Hampshire 300 on Sept. 15, 2002 at NHIS. Newman also captured the pole for that race, but rain canceled today's Cup qualifying session.

COMMENT ON FIRES IN THE RACECARS

"There's a lot of things in that department when it comes to fires. I'll start by saying cars carry 22 gallons of fuel, so you've got to prepare for that first of all. Second of all, you can only do so much because you're going to have the potential for fire when you're carrying that much fuel. To me, the racecars have a lot of work yet to be done as far as preparation to try to eliminate the fire perspective, whether it's fire extinguishers or different construction and things like that."

"To me, I think the biggest thing - I'll commend Loudon and a couple of other racetracks for it - is the walls themselves. If the wall gives, then you don't have to worry about the impact which is going to deconstruct the car to have the issues of fire. The things that have been brought to me recently, my engine failure at Michigan was one thing, but the crashes with Labonte, Jarrett and Schrader were all rear impact crashes that either exploded the fuel cell or some part of it to get the fuel fire. We've worked on the cars for 50 years to make them safer, but the same concrete wall is still up there. In certain instances, I'm not trying to pick on one track or the other, but we need to work on the wall. We need to work on the other parts, and I think that will eliminate some of the issues we have with the car. I'm not saying quit working on the car and work on the wall, but there's a conjunctive effort that needs to be put in place by the racetracks and the teams in order to try to eliminate some of the things."

HOW SAFE DO YOU FEEL WITH THE SOFT WALL?

"I'll tell you when I hit it. I know this. I know it's got to be better. It's proven to be better. I can't quantify it for you, but it's a move in the right direction and it's about time. I'm disappointed more racetracks don't have it, my own personal opinion. You can write about it all you want. To me, like I said, the cars have been worked on for 50 years and the walls haven't. It's about time."

DO YOU THINK SOFT WALLS WILL BE A TREND?

"The drivers are lobbying for everything they can safety wise. It still baffles me that certain racetracks have them and some tracks don't when it's something that, in my eyes, it could be something that NASCAR mandates the tracks have in order to be able to participate at those tracks. To me, it would be a way for NASCAR to protest their drivers and the sport and the perception of the sport because that's a lot of what it's all about."

COMMENT ON KEVIN HARVICK

"What you guys see and what the fans see is a different perspective from what the drivers see. Kevin Harvick didn't change last year as a driver or the year before. Yeah, he had some problems at Martinsville or whatever else, but the bottom line is the teams drive the sport and the fans drive the teams and everything else. It's a chemistry thing. It's a communication thing and everybody has got to be able to get along. Kevin raced me last year the same way he does this year. It's just that he's going faster this year, and he'll be the first one to tell you that. The teams, cars, everything. It takes the whole conjunctive effort."

WILL LOSS OF TRACK TIME TODAY BE CRITICAL?

"From our perspective, there's a lot of things we could learn today about the surface and the tire interaction that would carry over into race practice. Yes, it does take a different setup, but there's a lot of common items with the racetrack, the tires, the groove. I've always said the qualifying line is the fast line, and it's going to be the fast line in the race, too. There's certain things you can carry over. It'll be a certain percentage more advantageous for the teams that did get to test. I don't think it's night and day different."

COMMENT ON SEEING JERRY NADEAU BACK AT THE TRACK

"I haven't seen him personally, but my dad just talk to him. He said he looked pretty good and reacted pretty good. I look forward to talking to him. From a driver's perspective it's always gratifying to see that person back that's doing a similar job to what you are that's been injured and come back and be the same person."

COMMENT ON USA TODAY CRASH ARTICLE

"I think the biggest thing is the rules have tightened up the last two years since I've been here. I think the cars have come so much closer that it takes a little extra to make the passes. I'm not saying passes relate to crashes, but it relates to racing and that indirectly relates to crashing. I can't comment on any difference this year to last year, but I can say that there is a lot. The biggest difference is in the past 10 years. If we get Happy Hour in tomorrow you'll have 36 cars within half a second of each other and that wasn't the case 10 years ago."

CAN YOU DEPEND ON YOUR SPOTTER WHEN THERE'S A FIRE IN CAR?

"On one hand yes and one hand no. As most people know with fire you can't depend on anything. It comes and it goes. It can be there for a second and it's gone in a second. You'd like to depend on your spotter to help guide you. You'd like to think you can just drive the car down and everything will be all right and you'll be perfect getting in and out of the car and everything will be just fine. The bottom line is, just like driving down the highway and seeing a deer cross in front of you. The first thing you do is panic and slam on the brakes. I know myself from the Michigan deal, you tend to panic and the less you panic the more constructive you are as far as your evacuation out of the car. I only got to see a brief highlight of Bobby (Labonte) getting out of the car, but you could physically tell how mentally and physically emotion his body was. I guess it's part of it, but there's really nothing you can do to prepare for situations like that other than have experience."

IS IT AN AUTOMATIC REACTION WHEN YOU SEE FIRE IN THE CAR?

"It's a seat in the pants type situation. In my situation at Michigan, catching on fire, I personally felt the fire was going to go out just like that. It was an oil fire. Typically it's a flash fire and they burn right out. Mine didn't do that, and we had more leaks in the car than we should have as far as the shifter boot burning out and we had some holes in the car that worked duct taped instead of having metal plugs in them. We learned some things that weren't right, no mechanical advantage, but part of it was pure laziness and lack of development. That was a situation where it caught fire, I felt it was going to go out and it got to a point where I had to pull the pin - 911, it isn't going to go out. I thought it was going to be a brief fire, it would go out and I'd drive the car to the garage. If there was fire afterwards, they'll fire extinguish it. That was my perspective of what was going to happen going into turn three. I already had this planned out. The driver thinks this far ahead, or at least he should. When it didn't go out, I realized I couldn't undo my belts because I was still doing 120 mph. If somebody comes along and T-bones me, they're going to shoot me out the right side of the window. You've got to almost predict the future. Bobby's was almost the same way, but he hit the wall so hard it took off a lot of speed. Yet, he's still crossing the track. He's got to be thinking, 'do I undo my belts now or do I wait until this thing stops after I pull my window net down to undo my belts and bail out? Or is the fire going to die down and the guys can come over and blow it out and it'll be done? It's so hard to predict."

HOW WILL ESCAPE HATCHES HELP?

"I think the potential is there for it to help. I think the potential is also there for it not to be of help or to be a hindrance. I don't know exactly other than there's a pro and con to everything. We've seen the pros, but we haven't seen the cons yet."

"For example, I don't know anything about how it happened, but Kerry Earnhardt's crash where he got stuck in the car, supposedly his shoes got stuck in there. If he's been up against the side of the wall, they couldn't get to him except by an escape hatch. If he ever caught fire he couldn't get out. He was double trouble at that point. There's always going to be extreme accidents in what we do as long as these cars are driving over 40 mph."

"I hope they don't make the escape hatch a mandatory thing. I think there's some trial and error situations that need to be worked out for it for it to be beneficial to everybody. I think at the same time, as much as they're making the bodies similar, whether it's through the manufacturers or through the templates themselves, you're giving a team or crew chief or the ultimate cheater to tweak on the car, so that's not a good thing. I guess I'm trying to say I look at it from all difference perspectives."

WOULD A TEAM COMPROMISE SAFETY?

"Yes, definitely. Guys have been caught. It's always been done, and it'll always be done. We do everything we can do to make the cars as light as possible so we can go faster. Even to that extent, there are safety things we give up a little bit, but we try to make it as safe as we can. Crew chief, drivers, crew members would go the extra mile to sacrifice safety."

IS THERE A SET SIZE FOR FIRE EXTINGUISHER?

"To my knowledge NASCAR doesn't mandate what size fire extinguisher we run. In fact, I'm not really sure what size is in our car. I know that the only thing that gets sprayed in our car is the driver. It sits right next to me. It's designed basically for a 911. If there's a fire and I've got to put myself out, it's there. I've got to ride the others out. I think something can and should be done from a safety standpoint to mandate a six-pound or 10-pound fire extinguisher and nozzles in the trunk area and under the hood and in the driver's compartment and at the same time I think there's some things that could be done chemical wise for safety."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman