RYAN NEWMAN Seeking Another Successful Short-Track Run KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 19, 2010) -- For Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.)...
Seeking Another Successful Short-Track Run
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Oct. 19, 2010) -- For Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway couldn't come at a better time.
Short tracks have been the backbone of the No. 39 team's success since Newman joined SHR in 2009. Newman & Company have racked up impressive stats at tracks under a mile in length -- Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, and Martinsville.
In fact, Newman has posted a finish outside of the top-10 only twice in a combined 11 starts at the three short tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit, and that was a 16th-place finish at Bristol in March and an 11th-place finish at Richmond in September.
So, after last weekend's disappointing outing at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, in which Newman had to settle for a 36th-place finish after an accident on just the second lap of the race, the No. 39 team is looking forward to this weekend's return to short-track racing -- its safety net, of sorts -- and catalyst that more often than not has resulted in solid finishes.
In three starts at Martinsville with SHR, Newman has earned one pole and has posted one top-five and three top-10 finishes.
Last season, it was the back-to-back short-track races at Bristol and Martinsville that were the turning point for a struggling No. 39 team. After suffering through a series of misfortunes in the first four races of the season, Newman entered the Bristol race teetering on the verge of being outside of the top-35 in points.
At Bristol, the team rallied. It started the weekend by claiming the outside pole for the grueling 500-lap race. That momentum set the stage for its first top-10 run of the season as Newman led 25 laps en route to a seventh-place finish.
Newman followed his strong run at Bristol with an equally strong sixth-place finish at Martinsville. The back-to-back top-10 finishes marked the beginning of a run for the No. 39 team that saw Newman post six top-10 finishes in the next nine races -- including five top-five finishes -- and move from 27th to fourth in the championship point standings.
Newman's 2010 season got off to a similar start. In fact, it was almost a mirror image of the No. 39 team's struggles during its inaugural season. Back in March, Newman and his No. 39 Tornados team entered Martinsville still looking for its first top-10 finish of the year.
Although Newman posted the fastest times in practice at the Virginia oval, he was relegated to a 26th-place starting spot after qualifying was rained out and the field was set by owner points per the NASCAR rulebook . But having to start deep in the field didn't discourage Newman and his SHR team.
He steadily moved through the field, and claimed a spot in the top-10, where he raced much of the day.
A key call by crew chief Tony Gibson for Newman to stay on the track following a caution period at lap 491 moved the SHR driver from fifth-place to third on the restart at lap 496. Newman made quick work of passing Matt Kenseth and settling into the runner-up spot behind Jeff Gordon.
However, the caution flag flew at lap 498, setting up a green-white-checker finish, which extended the race eight laps past its originally scheduled 500-lap distance. Newman, who was on older tires than the cars directly behind him, did everything he could to hold onto second-place, but he got shuffled out of the groove and lost two positions. He was posted in fourth-place when the checkered flag flew.
Nonetheless, it was Newman's first top-five finish of the 2010 season, his third consecutive top-10 at Martinsville and his sixth top-five in 17 career Sprint Cup starts at the paperclip-shaped oval. Oddly enough, Newman scored his first victory with SHR in a similar scenario at Phoenix International Raceway the following week.
This weekend, Newman once again enters Martinsville needing a boost. Prior to last weekend's race in Charlotte, the No. 39 team had finished 11th or better in the previous seven races, which included six top-10 finishes and one top-five.
Newman wants to get his team turned back around and headed in the right direction in hopes of securing 13th-place in the points by season's end -- the highest spot a non-Chaser can earn. Currently, Newman is 14th in points, 75 points behind 13th-place Jamie McMurray.
If history has a way of repeating itself, with their impressive record at short tracks, expect Newman and the No. 39 to be back up front, contending for the win this weekend.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
The No. 39 team has posted three top-10 finishes in three races at Martinsville, and you earned the pole position there in the spring. What is it that you like and suits you about this racetrack?
"I like the short-track racing. The more a driver has input -- especially with some of the racetracks we go to, you don't have to brake a lot -- the more the driver has input, the more the driver has an effect. The short-track racing I definitely enjoy because of that. You go to a place like Michigan or California, it takes less driver and more car than it does at a short track, in my opinion. That is one of the things I enjoy about Martinsville. We had a good run there in the spring. We were fastest in practice, but we had to start pretty deep in the field because qualifying got rained out. But we had a good enough car that I was able to drive it into the top-10 and race there all day. And there, at the end, Tony Gibson used some strategy and made a pit call that put us in position to win the race with just a handful of laps to go. I was just unlucky on the outside there on the last restart. To get a top-four out of that and on older tires, I can't complain. So, I look forward to going back. Gibson is a great fan of Martinsville and short-track racing, and he's got a great understanding of the racecar there and what I like, and that makes a big difference, obviously, for me. We've been able to get three top-10 finishes in our three trips to Martinsville, and we're looking forward to continuing that streak. It's a fun racetrack, as long as you stay out of trouble and keep your brakes cool."
Both years, your season has definitely improved after the Series' first stop at Martinsville in the spring. Do you look forward to coming back to Martinsville, and why?
"I definitely look forward to coming back to Martinsville. I've always said that for me, and for whatever reason at short tracks, the driver has a little more of an impact on the end result than some of the bigger racetracks, and I like that. I enjoy the short tracks. It's a little bit of extra driver activity when you have to push the brake pedal. The more the drivers are involved, the more I think you get to race and, from that standpoint, I think it's more fun. Tony Gibson has some great setups with our short-track program at places like Martinsville, Bristol, Phoenix, Loudon and Richmond. I enjoy them, he enjoys them, and we just go out there and have some fun.
"I like that part of it and I think Clay (Campbell, track owner) and everybody has done a great job with this speedway to accommodate everybody and make it a nicer racetrack. Each time you come back, it seems to be a little nicer. Martinsville's spring race has been big for us both last year and this year. In 2009, it was the track that to me was a turning point for our organization, getting the two cars good finishing positions and showing what we were capable of to everybody. And, this year, we got our first top-10 finish with our fourth-place effort at Martinsville. That was a big step for us in the spring to get that top-10 finish.
"Martinsville has been a really good track for us. We have some good notes from our races there, so it's nice to come back to these racetracks and apply the things that you've learned, where you made your gains, and do your homework. Your homework is based on the past problem-solving that you've had."
Your team has been on a pretty impressive run, recently. Prior to Charlotte, you had four consecutive top-10 finishes and had posted six top-10s in seven races. Obviously, Charlotte was a disappointment for you and the No. 39 team. How do you rebound from that race and get back to where you were before this past weekend?
"Charlotte was definitely not what we expected. Our No. 39 Chevrolet was really fast, and I really felt like we had a good enough car to contend for a win, but that didn't happen. I was so mad at myself for that wreck on lap two and just so disappointed. I told Gibson and the guys during the race that I had no warning. The car just jumped sideways. I haven't had a racecar jump sideways that quickly, that fast, in a long time. There was just no saving it, and I backed it into the fence. I'm just mad at myself because I know we had a fast racecar. We still had a fast racecar when we came back out. It was just damaged. But that's just part of racing. You have bad outings and bad weekends, and you have to put them behind you and focus on what's ahead of you. You can't sit there and think, 'What if,' or what might have happened. Just like we can't do that about what happened at Charlotte last weekend, we haven't done that about not making the Chase. We had our chances to make the Chase and we could have put ourselves in a better position to get that 12th spot, but the circumstances didn't play out that way. Basically, you just have to put it behind you. That was last weekend, and now our focus is on Martinsville.
"For our team, we've had three really good, solid runs at Martinsville. We've had a pole, we've had a shot at the win and we've had three top-10 finishes. Martinsville has been a really good track for us. And we're bringing back the same car that we have raced here each time. In fact, Martinsville is the only track that this car races. We're all looking forward to getting the pole and improving on our finishes at Martinsville. It's a good track for me, for Gibson and for this team, so I think we'll get right back on track with our finishes. We've made it very clear that our goal is to finish 13th in points. We have some ground to make up now, but Martinsville has been a key track for us in the past in helping us achieve our goals and getting turned around in the right direction."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
In recent weeks, you've talked about how close your team is to getting its second win. Martinsville has been a good track for this team. Could it be the place for that win?
"I just think it's one of the tracks that we've run well at from the beginning. When we go there, we know we have a shot at a top-five and a win. Typically -- knock on wood -- we run well there and it kind of builds momentum for the next weekend. Take Charlotte out of the equation last week and we were definitely on a roll, for sure. If you keep running in the top-10, top-five, you're going to win pretty soon. I feel like we're at that point right now where we're running well enough to win. We just have to get the circumstances right, and keep the bad luck out. We could very well do it this week."
The No. 39 team has one pole and three top-10 finishes at Martinsville. What makes this team so good at Martinsville?
"We've run really well there. I've always run really well there with other teams, too. I don't know what it is. For me, I guess it's kind of like Bristol. It's a really cool racetrack. It's a lot of fun. It's a finesse track for the drivers. For Ryan, you've got to run hard all day, beating and banging. Obviously, the short-track stuff is what Ryan really likes. I don't know why. I ran really well there before with John Andretti and Aric Almirola. For some reason, that track just fits my style. I love going to Martinsville and I'm excited to go there this weekend. We should have sat on every pole last year and this year if it hadn't been for the rain in both of the spring races that cancelled qualifying. Hopefully, we can go up there and have a shot at the pole and, if not, get a top-five starting spot. It's critical to start up front. I know we started 26th there in the spring because of the rain and we ended up finishing fourth, but I would much rather start up front. We definitely had a shot to win it there at the end. I think the 11 car knocked us out of the way and we ended up fourth. We're going to Martinsville with the same racecar we ran there last year and this spring. We only run this car two times a year and that's at Martinsville. Hopefully, it's ready and, hopefully, we can go up there and get a win to make up for last weekend."
How hard is it to rebound from something like Charlotte? Like you said, this team was on quite a roll and you were taken out of contention on lap two. How do you come back from that?
"It's difficult. It's not so bad for the guys. I really have felt bad for Ryan because he felt horrible. He felt like he let everybody down. But, like I told him after the race was over, there are more times that we have let him down with bad pit stops or wrong strategy or something stupid has happened, where we've had cars that should have finished in the top-five or could have won, and we've messed it up for him. Everybody's human. They are going to make mistakes. He was just trying to gain as many spots as he could, early. That move has worked for us so many times on that high line early on restarts, passing guys. You know, maybe the track temperature was a little too cool or there wasn't enough heat in the tires to do that move at that point, but it didn't work. The thing is, we're a team. We win together, we lose together. And, like I told Ryan, there are still five races for us to go out there and win, and I think we'll get one. I expect Ryan will come out on fire this weekend, for sure."
You've said since not making the Chase that your goal is to finish the season 13th in points. Following Charlotte, the No. 39 team sits in 14th, 75 points behind 13th-place Jamie McMurray. Is 13th-place still attainable for this team?
"Definitely. It's one race. We lost what we gained, but we can definitely get back to 13th pretty easily. We had a pretty decent lead on them before Charlotte, and we had a great car for that race. I know we had a top-five car and even a shot to win the race. I feel like we had that good of a car when we finished up with practice on Friday night. It's disappointing, but that's racing and that's part of it and, luckily, we have this week coming up to prove what we can do. We lost it in one race, and I'm sure we can gain it back in one. I just want us to win another race before the year is over with. We'll get to 13th in the points."