By Stewart-Haas Racing
Being Spectacular and Winning at Daytona
Ryan Newman has never forgotten the advice his father offered him years ago as he was just starting his racing career. While he may not remember the exact conversation or when it took place, the words his dad said to him have never left his mind: “Son,” he said. “If you can’t win, be spectacular.”
And for Newman, there isn’t a racetrack on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit where that adage fits his record more perfectly than the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. In 19 Sprint Cup starts at the historic 2.5-mile track, Newman has one win (2008), two top-five and three top-10 finishes.
There’s no doubt Newman’s relationship with the superspeedway has definitely been one of love and hate over the years, one of victory and one of spectacular defeat since he emerged on the stock car scene and at Daytona for the first time in 2001.
The South Bend, Ind., native has flipped, barrel-rolled, landed upside down in the grass, has seen his car catch fire, and has slid across the start-finish line at Daytona more times than he cares to count. In fact, some would call Newman the poster child for rotten luck, hard crashes and “wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time” incidents at both restrictor-plate tracks – Daytona and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
But of course, Daytona hasn’t been all bad for Newman. He has tasted victory at Daytona and celebrated in the sport’s most famous victory lane on three different occasions.
Before joining the full-time ranks of the Sprint Cup Series, Newman earned his first win at Daytona in the ARCA series in 2001. It was his first-ever outing at the high-banked superspeedway, and Newman started 11th, led the final 12 laps of the 80-lap race and won by more than two-tenths of a second.
Three years later, in 2004, Newman scored his only IROC series victory at Daytona.
And three years ago, in 2008, Newman celebrated the greatest moment of his racing career at the historic racetrack. On that February evening, Newman achieved a lifelong dream when he stole the lead on the backstretch on the final lap of the season-opening race. He never looked back, winning the 50th running of the Daytona 500.
But Newman’s finishes at Daytona since that last momentous victory have been less than stellar. In fact, in the five points-paying races Newman has run at Daytona since joining Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2009, the team has never finished better than 20th and has three finishes of 26th or worse.
Despite the recent Daytona disappointments, Newman & Company roll into this weekend’s Coke Zero 400 with more confidence than ever. And why wouldn’t they? In February, Newman and his No. 39 SHR team were without a doubt the team to beat at Daytona.
In the non-points 2011 Budweiser Shootout, Newman led 12 of the last 13 laps. But, coming off turn four of the 2.5-mile superspeedway on the final lap, his challengers used slingshot moves to scoot around his No. 39 machine, relegating him to third.
Newman followed up that strong performance with an even more impressive Daytona 500. The No. 39 Chevrolet led a race-high 37 laps – a first for Newman and his No. 39 team – and looked to be a contender for the win before being collected in a multi-car melee just three laps before the scheduled end of the race.
Despite the disappointing end to their day at Daytona, the strong run boosted Newman’s the No. 39 team’s confidence and helped propel them to a strong start to the 2011 season and has helped buoy them into the top-10 in points. With 16 races in the books and 10 races to go until the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, Newman sits 10th in points, 98 markers behind series leader Carl Edwards.
This weekend, the No. 39 SHR Chevrolet carries primary sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops and the National Rifle Association (NRA). The one-race primary sponsorship is an extension of Bass Pro Shops’ overall relationship with SHR and team co-owner Tony Stewart, with whom the company has served as an associate sponsor since the team’s inception in 2009. So, as if Newman needs it, the 2008 Daytona 500 champion and his team have even more incentive to finish what they started at Daytona in February and “reel in” that elusive victory.
After all, if ever a racetrack owed a driver and team, it’s this track, Daytona International Speedway, for Newman and the No. 39 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Chevrolet. This weekend, Newman & Company returns to Daytona with guns blazing and one goal in mind – to capture the checkered flag and get the win they feel they deserve, and be spectacular in the process.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts on the new-style of restrictor-plate racing – the tandem racing – that we have seen at both Daytona and Talladega this year?
“I enjoy it more, now, with the tandem draft, just from my standpoint as a driver because we have more influence on the performance of our team and how we can hook together with a teammate or a non-teammate to have an effect on our day. And that means the most from my standpoint – to have that influence. In saying that, coming back here after leading the most laps in the Daytona 500, I think we have a really good package and I’m looking forward to it. We had a good car at Talladega, as well. We got caught up here just a couple of laps from the end on the backstretch in a wreck not of our making that shortened up our day. Daytona is a great place to race. I’ve always said that I don’t enjoy the restrictor-plate races as much as I do the non-restrictor-plate races, but I understand it’s a part of our sport. It’s not restrictor-plate racing the way that it used to be, where everybody is four-wide, four-deep and you are stuck in New York City traffic. That’s what I didn’t like from my standpoint.”
You and the No. 39 team had great runs in the Budweiser Shootout and in the Daytona 500. Do you go into this race with more confidence? What are your thoughts on going back to Daytona for the Coke Zero 400 with those two strong runs behind you?
“We led the most laps in the Daytona 500, which was a great feat for us as a team. It was the first time for me at a restrictor-plate track and the first time for me at SHR. And we feel we were four laps away from winning that race which, if you equate it to math, time-wise it’s two-and-a-half minutes. To be two-and-a-half minutes away from something so big and get crashed is pretty disappointing. It happens, and it seems like it’s happened to us a lot, but we still left Daytona knowing we had something and we were in the mix to bring home the trophy, and that was a big deal for us.
“I look forward to coming back there, after getting a little more experience from Daytona and Talladega, I’m sure our teams are going to be more competitive than they ever have been at that type of racing. It’s going to be hot. It will be interesting to see how much grip there is in the racecar after this spring and if we still have to run wide open or if we have to lift at all. The racing itself, I wouldn’t say, is my favorite kind of racing. But I do prefer it over the old style of drafting, I guess you could say, that we have always done there. It’s nice to have an impact as a driver on the abilities of tandem racing, but I would rather be racing side-by-side, three-wide or four-wide or running wide open and having my car do the work than something else pushing me.”
How will the heat this weekend affect the cars and the tandem racing style, as well as the drivers in the Coke Zero 400?
“The heat will affect the cars and how long we can drive together. I don’t think the heat will have an effect on the grip of the racetrack and being able to do what we do in the corners and in the straightaways. Once the cars get on edge, grip-wise, we struggle a little bit more to stay hooked up. Once you start moving the car in front of you around because you are kind of jacking it sideways, at times, it gets a lot more interesting. But I don’t think we’re going to be at that grip level. The biggest thing is that if it is hotter, you’re going to have to save your car because, as you go into night, if it does cool down – which sometimes it never does, here – you want to be there at the end and you can start being a little more aggressive toward the end of the race. As far as the heat and the drivers, well, that’s the same for everybody. It’s hot. I’ve been hotter this year in a racecar than I ever have. We’ve done some different things in a racecar to make it better as far as cooling me down and keeping my body temperature down. I’m a heavy sweater and there have been a couple of races this year where, no matter what, I was not going to be able to stay hydrated. I was going to be dehydrated at the end of the race.”