RYAN NEWMAN Fishing for His Spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Aug. 11, 2010) -- Michigan has always held a special place in Ryan Newman's heart as it's been the place where his two passions -- fishing and racing -- have ...
Fishing for His Spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Aug. 11, 2010) -- Michigan has always held a special place in Ryan Newman's heart as it's been the place where his two passions -- fishing and racing -- have uniquely converged and developed over the years.
You see, Newman was picking up a fishing rod right around the same time he was buckling into his first Quarter Midget at the young age of 4.
It was Newman's grandfather, Jerry, who taught him about fishing. The two would often spend time together on Dewey Lake in Dowagiac, Mich. They would sit in their fishing boat for hours, casting their lines, hooking fish and then tossing them back into the lake. That's where Newman began developing his love for the outdoors.
While Newman's grandfather was teaching him how to cast his line into the pond and reel in a big fish, his father Greg was instructing him about a different kind of line -- on how to drive in circles and what line to follow around the racetrack to post the quickest time.
Newman's love for the roar of the engines grew quickly as he traveled to races all around the Midwest.
And when he wasn't behind the wheel of a racecar, he was working on one, or watching races. It became a family ritual that young Newman and his family packed up the car and made the 130-mile drive from his South Bend, Ind., home to the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn to be a fan at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Newman recalls fondly how he sat in the grandstands and cheered on his childhood idols Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
And so it was only fitting that, when Newman was signed as a developmental driver for Penske Racing, he made his first start at a place the 32-year-old still refers to as his home track. In June 2000, Newman made his stock car debut in the ARCA Series for Penske Racing at the 2-mile oval. He qualified on the outside pole and led three laps en route to a seventh-place finish.
Since his first stock car start at Michigan, the track nestled in the Irish Hills has continued to play an important role in the Purdue University engineering graduate's racing career.
It was at Michigan, on Aug. 18, 2001, that Newman drove to his first-ever NASCAR victory by winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series race in dominating fashion. After qualifying on the outside pole, Newman wasted no time taking over the point and he never looked back. He led 119 of 125 laps and won by 1.3 seconds.
Four years later, in 2005, Newman returned to Nationwide Series competition at Michigan in the No. 39 car. He started 38th thanks to qualifying being rained out, but powered his way from the back, led seven laps and scored his second victory at the 2-mile track.
In Sprint Cup competition at Michigan, Newman has one pole, two wins, four top-five and four top-10 finishes. Newman's two victories actually came back-to-back. He won the August 2003 race, and followed it up with a repeat performance in June 2004. In 2003, Newman started on the outside pole and led 32 laps en route to the win. At the 2004 race, he started fourth and led 22 laps on his way to taking the checkered flag.
This weekend, Newman and his No. 39 Tornados Racing team hope Michigan will once again play a pivotal role in the "hometown boy's" season -- this time in helping him secure a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Last season, in his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Newman qualified for the Chase and finished ninth in the championship point standings. This year, with just four races remaining to the Chase, Newman sits 14th in the standing, 83 points away from the 12th-place cutoff for the Chase. Newman and his team know that they are part of an extremely tight battle for that final position, and they know what is riding on each and every lap in this weekend's CARFAX 400 at Michigan. They are determined to capture that final spot. Now is the time for Newman to hook that big fish -- his spot in this year's Chase -- reel it in, and hold on to it.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
With four races left to the Chase, do you believe you are still in contention for that 12th spot?
"Absolutely. It's still a great race for that 12th spot. I think it's easy to see that with all the shifting in the points each week. While we would much rather be inside the top-12 already, we've put ourselves in a good position to make the Chase thanks to a lot of hard work by everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing. Everyone wants that last spot and we are racing hard for it every week. There's a lot of pressure, and we're doing the best job we can with the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet.
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 -- probably close to once a year -- 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.
"Luckily, 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. My dad 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."
Not only have you talked about Michigan being your home track, but you have also said it is really one of your favorite tracks to drive. What do you like about Michigan?
"It's a fun racetrack to drive and a fun racetrack to race because it's a 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. 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. I just think it's a track that is conducive to good racing.
"To have a good run at Michigan, there are definitely a couple of key things that you have to have. The first thing 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. In June, I felt like we had a pretty good-handling car for the most part during the race. I think we hung around the top-10 for most of the day. Unfortunately, we ran over a piece of debris on the racetrack and that really changed the complexion of the race for us. The handling went away, the front of the car didn't work, and we ended up losing a lap. What happened was really perplexing and unfortunately it ended up costing us at the end of the day. Despite that, I think we have some good notes going back to Michigan this weekend, so I think we should have a good racecar.
"I feel like our performances at the mile-and-a-half and 2-mile tracks have improved this season. We just need to have a little luck this weekend, and I'm confident we'll have a solid finish. And right now, that's what's important to this race team. We're on the outside looking in, and our goal is to make this Chase. To do that, we have to have a solid day at Michigan."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
After the race on Sunday at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, you came over the radio and very emphatically told your crew that the No. 39 team was "back in the hunt" for the Chase. How stressful is it to be battling for that 12th and final position and to watch the points so closely each week?
"It's stressful but, for a while there, we weren't making any gains. We were actually losing ground. To nearly cut it in half after one race was pretty huge. We know we are back in it and we've got a shot at it, at the very least. There are four races left and we made up half of our deficit in one race, so that tells me we can do it. I think, right now, it just builds confidence for the No. 39 Tornados team, and it shows us we can do it. After a couple of weeks of not getting the finishes you need, it's easy for everybody to get down and think you are out of the deal, but it only takes one spark to show you that you are right back in the middle of the battle again. Hopefully, we can use last week as a motivational and momentum-builder so we can make a run for it."
Last June at Michigan, the No. 39 team appeared to have a really good car and then there was a freak incident on-track where Newman hit a piece of debris that drastically shifted his performance. Do you know what happened in June? How have you prepared and what are the keys for this weekend's race?
"Honestly, we never got a definite answer on what happened in June. You know, we think it was a sway-bar link that got hung up after we hit the debris. After the car got hit, it kind of popped the front of the car up, and the car just stopped cutting for Ryan. The best we could tell, it just kind of hung the link on it because, with five laps to go in the race, Ryan told us the front end fell back down and it started cutting again. It was a freaky thing that happened. Honestly, we still really have no idea. We are just assuming that's what it was. We had a really good car up to that point. We were really happy with the car and we thought it was going to be a great day, but we hit that piece of debris, which has been our luck. We're excited about going back. We're going back with the same setup that we had in June. We have a new body configuration on the car that we worked really hard. We went in another direction on our aero program, so this is something new this weekend, and it looks like it should be better and it should fit Ryan's driving style. So we're going up to Michigan with everything we've got.
"Michigan is a track that is really bad about being tight through the center because you are carrying so much entry speed into the corners. The characteristics of the track are a little free in, tight in the center, and free off. Finding that balance where a driver can absorb some of the entry being a little free in, to make sure you roll the center better, is key. I would rather have two parts of the corner good and one bad than one good and two bad. If we can keep our entry really good, I think we can run pretty well there."