RYAN NEWMAN Turning Dreams to Reality - A Part of His Phoenix History KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 6, 2010) - For Ryan Newman, the track in the Valley of the Sun will always be special. After all, this is where all of Newman's boyhood dreams finally...
Turning Dreams to Reality - A Part of His Phoenix History
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 6, 2010) - For Ryan Newman, the track in the Valley of the Sun will always be special. After all, this is where all of Newman's boyhood dreams finally became reality.
On Nov. 5, 2000, Newman made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. For the then-22-year-old driver, that was the day his dreams came true.
Ever since he was a 4-year-old boy climbing behind the wheel of his first Quarter Midget, Newman imagined being a NASCAR driver. He had dreamed of piloting a stock car, battling door-to-door with his competitors and celebrating in victory lane.
The young Newman had already impressed in the open-wheel divisions of the United States Auto Club (USAC), collecting numerous wins and honors, as well as capturing the 1999 Silver Crown championship. He had also received accolades following his stellar performance behind the wheel of an ARCA stock car in a five-race schedule that produced two poles, three wins and four top-10 finishes.
But nothing was as big as that day in Phoenix.
On that November weekend, Newman wasted no time showing the Sprint Cup regulars his penchant for turning a quick lap as he qualified 10th in the No. 02 Penske Racing entry in his maiden effort. He went on to be competitive during the race, too, although the final results show a 41st-place finish due to an engine failure.
But, more importantly, Phoenix was where Newman made the first step in his NASCAR career. It's a career that has so far resulted in 46 Sprint Cup poles and 13 wins in 302 career starts.
For Newman's sponsor Tornados, the one-mile racetrack was also the site of their first step together in NASCAR. Last November, in the Phoenix media center, Dinuba, Calif.-based Ruiz Foods announced that its Tornados brand would adorn the No. 39 Chevrolet Impala at nine races during the 2010 season.
The family owned company had wanted a big idea in order to launch Tornados, its bold-rolled snack brand, into grocery stores nationwide. The company's exciting leap into NASCAR and its foray into NASCAR sponsorship culminated with the unveiling of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet in Phoenix's victory lane.
This weekend, both Newman and his sponsor Tornados return to the Phoenix track that has been so significant to both of them during their NASCAR tenure with one goal in mind - to return the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet to victory lane on Saturday night.
Newman, who has four poles, three top-five and three top-10 finishes in 15 starts at the one-mile desert oval, has never celebrated in victory lane, although he has come close with third- and second-place finishes in 2003 and 2004, respectively.
And, after scoring his Stewart-Haas Racing team's first top-10 finish of the season with a solid fourth-place effort at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway two weeks ago, Newman and his crew are riding a wave of momentum that could carry them to the front of the pack at Phoenix and lead them to their first win.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Two weeks ago, you and your No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing team scored your first top-10 finish of the 2010 season with a fourth-place effort at Martinsville. At the time, you said that was a much-needed boost for your team. How much does that top-five finish mean to you and your team as we go to Phoenix this weekend?
"It was a big boost. We needed a top-five as a team. We had been working all season to try and make improvements over last year and, although we felt like we had better cars for the most part this year, our results weren't there. Finally, at Martinsville, they were. The guys did a good job in the pits all day and, in the end, 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. We were sixth at Martinsville in the spring last year, and two weeks ago we were fourth. It was a good points day for us, which is obviously important to us. It was a much-needed top-five for our team, and I hope it is going to be a momentum-builder for us, too. I think the key for us is to maintain that positive feeling we had after the Martinsville race. We've had a week off, but I think everyone in the shop is pumped up about our finish and the fact we had a good car, and a good day, all day long. I think, for us, although all the races are important, these next few races are key. We need to take what we did at Martinsville and spin it into some more solid finishes."
You often talk about what a fun racetrack Phoenix is for a driver. What makes this track so fun to you and what is your outlook for the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet?
"I'm looking forward to Phoenix. It's a driver's racetrack. We've always said that because it's so unique. It's different from one end to the other. And, therefore, the crew chief can only get one end perfect, it seems, and the other one the driver has to adapt to. Phoenix is interesting because, I think every time we come back here, it seems like the track loses just a small percentage of grip, and that's a good thing because the driver has to drive and hustle the car a little bit more and a little bit differently and still be smooth. It's those aspects that make this track a lot of fun to me.
"Phoenix is a special track to me. It's where I started my Sprint Cup career. It's the first track I raced on in NASCAR, so it's an important place. I've had some good runs at Phoenix but I just haven't been able to get a victory there. I've come close with a second-place and a third-place, but close isn't winning.
"It's really one of my favorite racetracks because the design of the racetrack makes it fun and challenging to drive. We ran really well at Martinsville earlier this season and at the short tracks all last year, and you run Phoenix with a short-track package and a short-track mentality, so I think we should have a good run this weekend in the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet. Last year, we didn't have the finishes we wanted or expected at Phoenix, compared to our other short-track efforts. In the first race, we had radio communication issues the entire night, and then in the second race, we had some pit road problems that put us behind, and then I got caught up in someone else's wreck. I really think we're better than either of our finishes from last season show."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Martinsville was a really solid outing for the No. 39 team. The car was strong all day, the pit stops were good and, in the end, Newman was able to record the team's first top-10 finish of the 2010 season with a fourth-place effort. How important was getting a good finish at Martinsville two weeks ago for you and the No. 39 team?
"We needed that spark. We've had some decent runs, but we haven't had the finishes to show for it. We had a motor failure, a crash and some other issues that put us back in the points, so it was nice to finally show what we can do. The guys are pretty pumped up. There's nothing like having a little momentum, so we're pretty excited. I think Phoenix has a lot of similarities to Martinsville. You carry more entry speed into the corners at Phoenix, but it is more or less a short-track package. We had a really strong car at Martinsville, and I expect to have the same at Phoenix."
You have said on multiple occasions that you feel this team is traveling a similar path as last year with the finishes, the points and battling out of a hole in the points with a string of solid finishes. Two weeks ago at Martinsville, your team scored its first top-10 of the season. So, what are your goals, now, and how improved is this team over last year's team that battled back to a spot in the Chase?
"I think we are definitely better, for sure. We've improved as a team all the way around from what we do in the shop to our communication at the racetrack. You can see the improvements and we are stronger for that. We just keep building off of last year. Both teams had really good years last year and we obviously want to be better. We try to focus on the things we weren't as good at last year, build on those and make them better so we are stronger in our weaker areas. I feel like our whole company is better. I feel like, definitely, our team is better. I've said several times that I have felt like our cars were better and our race packages were stronger at several of the tracks we went to, but the finishes didn't necessarily reflect that. We have had some things out of our control that put us in the points position we are in now. But we improved each race, and we got our first top-five at Martinsville, and now we are moving up in the points, and that has to be our focus.
"We've got to just keep going on the same path that we started with our finish at Martinsville. We need to have several more good weeks. We need to keep focusing on getting those top-10 and top-five finishes so we can keep getting better and keep moving up in the points. And, to me, I know that we can do it. This team has proven the heart it has. The guys have proven that they have the desire and the never-quit attitude. They proved it all last season, and they are proving it all over again with each and every race this year. I think our strong run at Martinsville will give us some much-needed momentum as we head to Phoenix and this stretch of races."
Ryan calls Phoenix a driver's track because of its unique design, where it has two very different ends. How much of a challenge is Phoenix for a crew chief?
"It's a little bit tricky because you have two different ends. Turns one and two have more banking and are tighter. You really have to focus on getting the grip just right, and you have a little bit of a forward-bite issue off of the corner because your corner speed is slower in turns one and two. Then, you haul the mail into turn three, so a lot of guys will get loose into three because you carry so much speed in there. If you are loose in, you're going to have to slow the car down, wait too much to roll the center - and it's a flat corner down there. The key is to be able to really carry your corner entry speed in there, where you can roll through the center, and then you can carry that momentum off the corner. If you have to come from a dead stop back to wide-open throttle, you will just sit there and spin the tires off of turn four all day long. The more speed you can carry through three and four, because it is a flat corner, the better off you are going to be. It's a tricky little racetrack and it can be a handful, but I think it's a little easier at night because the grip level increases."