RYAN NEWMAN Seeking Luck, Solid Finish in Michigan's Irish Hills KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Aug. 12, 2009) -- "May the Irish hills caress you. May her lakes and rivers bless you. May the luck of the Irish enfold you." -- Irish blessings. There's no...
Seeking Luck, Solid Finish in Michigan's Irish Hills
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Aug. 12, 2009) -- "May the Irish hills caress you. May her lakes and rivers bless you. May the luck of the Irish enfold you." -- Irish blessings.
There's no other racetrack, no other place like Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman. The South Bend, Ind., native calls the 2-mile speedway nestled in the Irish Hills his home track.
>From the first time Newman came to the track as a fan to cheer on his childhood heroes from the grandstands nearly 20 years ago, it has held a special place in his heart. That first trip to Michigan, watching the cars speed down the straightaways and around the turns, left a big impression on the future NASCAR star.
Not only did Newman instantly feel a connection to the roaring engines as they circled the racetrack, but the avid outdoorsman quickly became fond of the scenic beauty that surrounded the speedway. Over the years, Newman has fostered his bond with both the racetrack and the area known as the Irish Hills through some winning performances and impressive generosity.
It was at Michigan in June 2000 that Newman busted onto the stock car racing scene. In front of a hometown crowd, the then-22-year-old got his big break as he climbed behind the wheel of a stock car for the first time to compete in the ARCA Series race for Penske Racing. Newman started on the outside pole and wheeled his powerful machine to a seventh-place finish. He followed that first stock car start with his first stock car victory just a month later at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. By November of 2000, Newman made his much-heralded debut in the Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix International Raceway.
Two Nationwide starts at Michigan (2001, 2005) have produced two dominating wins for Newman. And in 16 Sprint Cup Series starts, Newman has scored victory twice -- back-to-back trips to victory lane at the superfast track in August 2003 and June 2004.
Off the track, the eight-year Sprint Cup Series veteran has initiated a partnership with various local groups in hopes of restoring a local youth camp so that kids and families alike would have somewhere to go camping, hiking and canoeing, and just enjoy the outdoors. For Newman, giving back to the same area where he grew up fishing and camping with his family, as well as racing during the formative years of his youth, was vitally important.
This weekend, Newman returns to Michigan with his No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army team. In June, Newman and his team battled handling issues before finishing 23rd.
With just four races remaining in the Chase for the Championship, Newman and his Stewart-Haas Racing team are sitting in ninth place in the championship standings, 100 points ahead of the 13th-place cutoff. After posting a string of eight top-10 finishes in 10 races, Newman and his team have struggled in recent weeks with just one top-10 finish (a sixth-place effort at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.) in the last eight races.
This time around, Newman hopes the track that holds such a special place in his heart will embrace him and his team's efforts as they battle for a spot in the Chase for the Championship. If ever there was a time he needed the "Luck of the Irish" (Hills) to be smiling upon him, it is now.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation /U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You have said that Michigan is a special racetrack for you because it is near your home in South Bend, Ind., and it is where you used to come watch races as a kid. Can you talk a little bit more about your special memories at this racetrack?
"The first time I came to Michigan was 1993 or 1994, just as a fan. We parked right behind the main grandstand and got to our seats right before the green flag fell. It was one of my first experiences with NASCAR and it left a great impression on me. I came as a fan several more times after that, so it was pretty cool that my first start in a stock car came at Michigan in 2000 in the ARCA Series when I was driving for Penske Racing. To have my dream come true so close to my hometown, with my family at the track, was pretty big day.
"I've been able to celebrate a couple of times at Michigan. I've won two Sprint Cup races and two Nationwide races there, but I think my favorite memory at Michigan was in June 2004. The race was on Father's Day that day, and I didn't get anything for my dad (Greg Newman) because I was so busy. Dad wasn't spotting for me then, but he was part of the pit crew and he had a radio on. When I crossed the start-finish line and won the race, I told him 'There's your Father's Day present -- that's all you're getting.' He keyed up the microphone and told me 'That's all I wanted.' That was a pretty special gift for him."
You have been pretty vocal about Michigan being one of your favorite racetracks. What do you like about Michigan?
"It's a fun racetrack to drive and a fun racetrack to race because it's relatively easy track to get around. For a driver, it's just a great racetrack. In fact, I normally tell people that anyone can drive Michigan. It is so wide that cars can race three- and four-wide there every lap. Because the track is so wide, you can pass there every lap. The track has long sweeping corners, which helps to promote some really good racing. From a driver's standpoint, you get to draft and bump-draft on the straightaways. You can get offline and go three- or four-wide in the corners. It's relatively not bumpy and that makes it good for racing.
"There are a couple of keys to success there -- the first is speed. You have to have horsepower to get around this ultra-fast racetrack. I'm confident in that area because we have such strong horsepower from Hendrick under the hood of our No. 39 Chevrolet. The second key is handling. The handling of the racecar is crucial, especially in turns two and three. The car can't get too tight off two or be too loose off three. The team and I are hoping we can go there and get things rolling again. We really struggled with handling issues back in June at Michigan in both practice and in the race. We just couldn't get the car to roll through the corners the way it needed to, and that ended up biting us in the race. We tried everything, even making a spring change during the race. It wasn't an ideal situation. However, it did help the car as the race wound down. Unfortunately, we got a lap down and we never got a caution flag, which would have put us back on the lead lap. I think if we would have been on the lead lap, we were fast enough and good enough at the end of the race to make up some ground we had lost. Hopefully, what we learned there in June will help us to improve our handling issues this time around and we will have a solid weekend from the time we unload."
The No. 39 team is currently sitting in ninth place in the championship standings, 100 points ahead of 13th-place with just four races remaining until the Chase. Can you talk about your position in the points right now? Are you comfortable with where you are and what you need to do to maintain your position in the Chase in these four remaining races?
"Honestly, I think my teammate Tony Stewart might be the only one who might be comfortable with his spot in the Chase and he probably won't even admit it -- at least until after he starts the race at Michigan this weekend, because I think that's what solidifies him in the Chase. We just need to do what we've done, only we need to try to do it better. We've got ourselves in a position to be in the top-12, but we need to do it better because we're sitting ninth right now, and that's a dangerous place to be sitting with four races to go.
"I know the guys who are breathing down our neck for the top-12 are really good guys, competitiveness-wise. I'm not comfortable. Our team's not comfortable. I don't think you can ever really get comfortable. It's racing. You never know what the situation is going to be each week. You can have the best-prepared, fastest racecar and something can happen. There are pitfalls in this sport, and you just never know. But what we do know is what we need to do to put ourselves into the Chase, and that's to perform these final four races.
"I think everybody has to go out and do his thing and where we end up is where we end up. You put yourself in a position to be in it if you do a good enough job. Then, once you are, you do your best, and if your best is good enough, you will be at that head table. As simple as it sounds, that is what it comes down to."
Although you have said you aren't comfortable with your spot in the Chase right now, what the No. 39 team has accomplished over the season so far has been impressive. Can you talk about your thoughts on where you are with your team right now in the season?
"Nothing has come easy for us -- that's for sure. I think that may be one of the reasons I am so proud of this team and what we have accomplished so far. These guys have had to overcome adversity from the start of the season at Daytona, and they've done a great job of keeping their chins up and staying focused and doing their jobs and fixing any problems we have had. Every team is going to have problems at some point. That's just the nature of this business. But it's a matter of how we get through the problems, how we react to them and how they affect us. I think this team has proven it can handle adversity and that it will do everything in its power to soldier through it. I have a very strong team, and I'm proud of how we have progressed and jelled as a team this season.
"That being said, we have more work and more improving to do. We aren't comfortable with our spot in the Chase, and we really have to keep our noses to the grindstone to make sure we stay in the top-12 these next four races. From the beginning of the season, that has been our goal. We've put ourselves in that position. Now, we have to protect what we have. We need to get back on a roll with the performances that put us here -- that string of top-fives and top-10s -- and we still need to get that first victory. I absolutely feel we belong in the Chase, but we still have work to do."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Haas Automation /U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Can you talk about the No. 39 team's position in the points with four races left until the Chase for the Championship?
"Our goal from the beginning of this season has been to make the Chase. I said a couple of weeks ago that we are in a dogfight right now, and we are. Every position on that track means more and more as we get closer to the Chase. We had a good stretch of top-10s there for a while, and we have had a few weeks where we have kind of stumbled. We've been trying to make the best out of the situation each week and just get all we can out of each and every race, and Ryan has done that behind the wheel and the guys have done that in the pits. No, we haven't had the finishes we thought we should have in a few races. We want to get back in the top-five and top-10 on the racetrack each week, but for us right now, we are just battling as hard as we can to make sure we have that spot in the Chase. So, each and every week, we are looking at is as we need to have a good points day at every outing. We can't get too crazy and try things because we have to make sure we get ourselves solidly in that Chase. And, with four races to go, it is really, really tight. Right now, we just have to stay focused and keep digging. We have a good group of guys here, and I'm confident."