RYAN NEWMAN Pocono's Tricky Triangle Launched His Career Racing Ovals KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 2, 2010) -- Perhaps you could say that Ryan Newman's career has come full-triangle. Next month marks the 10-year anniversary of what could arguably be...
Pocono's Tricky Triangle Launched His Career Racing Ovals
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 2, 2010) -- Perhaps you could say that Ryan Newman's career has come full-triangle.
Next month marks the 10-year anniversary of what could arguably be one of the biggest victories in his career. The win -- Newman's first-ever in a stock car -- came at the 2.5-mile triangle-shaped Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, the site of this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500.
Newman, a native of South Bend, Ind., had always dreamed of racing stock cars. Although he grew up in the shadows of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway and open-wheel racing, Newman was always focused on stock cars. Even as a little boy, he had preferred to play with his NASCAR slot car racetrack as opposed to his open-wheel cars.
So when Newman was finally given the chance to try his hand behind the wheel of a stock car, the engineering college student and open-wheel standout wasted no time showing his prowess in the driver's seat.
On July 22, 2000, Newman, who had teamed with Penske Racing as a development driver, handily won the ARCA Series race in his first visit to the "Tricky Triangle." After starting on the outside pole, Newman led 40 of the 80 laps en route to the dominating victory. The win came in only his second start behind the wheel of a stock car, proving that the Indiana kid's dreams of competing and winning in NASCAR weren't unfounded.
Newman followed that first win with two more dominating wins in the ARCA Series before making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut later that season at Phoenix International Raceway.
Now, nearly 10 years later, Newman has amassed 46 poles and 14 victories in 309 Sprint Cup starts. His most recent win came earlier this season as Newman scored his first victory behind the wheel of the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) Chevrolet at Phoenix, the site of his first-ever Sprint Cup start.
Ever since that first start --and win -- at Pocono in the ARCA Series, the triangle-shaped racetrack has always been one that Newman has enjoyed. While the track has proven to be complicated and vexing to many drivers, that has not been the case for Newman, who has often praised the unique layout.
In 16 Sprint Cup starts at Pocono, Newman has two poles (July 2003 and June 2007), one win (July 2003), six top-five finishes and seven top-10s. Last June at Pocono, Newman and his No. 39 Haas Automation team overcame engine issues midway through the 200-lap event to finish fifth.
Newman & Company enter this weekend's Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 sitting 12th in the championship point standings.
He and his team have battled back from DNFs (did not finish) in the season's first two races and moved into the top-12 for the first time this year thanks to a gutsy strategy call in last week's race that led to a top-10 finish at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Newman and his team are proving their goals of making the Chase for the Championship are attainable.
Pocono Raceway could be considered the track that launched Newman's stock car racing career. Last year, it was where Stewart-Haas Racing celebrated its first point-paying win as Tony Stewart and the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy cruised to victory. This weekend, Newman and the No. 39 Haas Automation team hope this will be a track that helps them solidify their spot in the top-12.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What do you like about Pocono Raceway?
"Pocono is really all its own when it comes to racetracks. I've heard some people call it a 'roval' in the past because it's a cross between a road course and an oval. There's just nothing like Pocono. It can be a long, grueling race, but it can be a lot of fun when your car is right, too. From my standpoint, I really like it. It's challenging. All three corners are different, the straightaways are different. I just look forward to it. It's one of my favorite racetracks and, honestly, sometimes I think I like it because other people don't. I've always enjoyed the challenge of Pocono -- the three different corners, the long straightaways and different-length straightaways. It's a lot of fun. I've had some success there and look forward to this weekend."
Talk about the unique challenges that Pocono presents for both the driver and the crew chief.
"Pocono is unique. It's the most unique racetrack we go to. It's a lot of fun from my standpoint as a driver to drive. I like the challenge. The track has three independent corners and, because of that, it is truly a driver's racetrack. Each corner is completely different from the other. They drive differently and you have to adapt to them because it is impossible to have the car set up for all three. Turn one is pretty difficult. The tunnel turn is probably the hardest corner. The straightaways at Pocono are so long, you need to get all of the speed down them that you can. You have to make it so that your car can come off of turn three as fast as possible.
"The uniqueness of the track also makes it one of the more difficult places to qualify. Its different bankings, different-length straightaways and different radiuses through the corners. From a car standpoint, it's hard to get a car to do that and do all three things right. You just have to try and get it as close as you can, so sometimes you have to compensate one way or another to be able to make the ultimate lap at Pocono. The better you start there, the better chance you have to finish. If you start in the back, it's harder to work your way forward, so we put a lot of emphasis on qualifying and I definitely look forward to qualifying at Pocono. I think we got rained out both times last year.
"As much as I like racing at Pocono, I know that, for a crew chief, the track is a challenge. Setting up the car to be fast at each of the three different ends is a big challenge for the teams. So the race and the track can be a nightmare for a crew chief. It's difficult to keep the car right. It really is a super-tough track, but we've had some good runs there and I'm looking forward to getting back."
Pocono is where you got your first win in a stock car. Does the track hold a special significance for you because of that victory?
"My first win at Pocono wasn't in NASCAR competition. It was in my second ARCA start, but it was so big for me and my family and everyone who had helped me in my racing career along the way. Growing up in Indiana, I always wanted to drive in NASCAR, which wasn't heard of. Most kids in Indiana wanted to compete in the Indianapolis 500. But for me, I always loved stock car racing. So winning at Pocono back in 2000 was bigger than I can explain. It was proving that I had made the right decision and that I was ready for the move to stock car racing. It was really a special day. There was some excitement on the final laps, some bumping, but it was a big win for me."
You have said that you like Pocono for reasons outside of racing, too. What is it about the area that you like so much?
"I'm an outdoors guy, so going to Pocono is kind of like a bonus for me. I like the racetrack a lot, and I like the things you can do outside of racing there, too. It's a pretty laidback area. It's in the country. The scenery's great and, for me, I get a chance to do a lot of great fishing. There are a lot of good places to fish up there, and I enjoy that aspect of it. Krissie's parents live there, too, so it's nice to go and visit with them and just hang out and relax. We grill out, and just really have fun."
You won the pole at Charlotte last weekend. Were you disappointed that you didn't quite have enough to get the win?
"Just because you have the fastest car for one lap doesn't mean you have the best car. We had a decent car. We just didn't have a winning car. Ultimately, I think we had a good race. We rebounded. When that last caution came out, we stayed out and I think we went from 19th to third. We ended up finishing ninth, so that was a big gainer for us in the grand scheme of things. That top-10 helped us move into the top-12 in points, and that's really good for us and the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet
Is it too early to be thinking about the top-12 and the Chase?
"As far as the points, we're always thinking about it. You really just have to make it happen. Each race you just do your best. You're thinking about it because that's where you want to be. You want to make the Chase for the Championship. In general, we wish we were higher in points, but we know what we started the season with. We had two DNFs -- we got crashed at Daytona and had an engine failure at California. Both were pretty good racecars. It's not where we want to be, but we understand where we started from and we are happy that we made it into the top-12. This is a group of guys who have really dug deep and we have overcome a lot, and I'm proud of what we have accomplished. From where we started this year, to where we are now, we've made a pretty good rebound."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Newman talked about how much he loves Pocono, but he also said the track could be a nightmare for a crew chief. What makes this track so frustrating for crew chiefs?
"Pocono is definitely a challenge. It has three different corners, and you really just can't make any driver happy with their car all the way around the track. You really have to turn your focus and concentrate on which part of the racetrack your car needs to be the best at so you can help your driver the most. To me, the corner that really makes it is turn three. If you can get through turn three and then off the corner well, it makes the straightaway even longer than it already is and you can really carry some speed and pass guys through there.
"We had pretty good racecars in both races there last year. We had a plug wire that went bad in the first race, but we came from behind in that deal and really ended up running pretty well the second half of the race and got a top-five finish. It's a good track for Ryan, and I really like the racetrack as a crew chief because I've had some success there in the past with several different drivers who liked the track.
"I think you just have to look at it knowing the car's not going to be perfect everywhere. You're going to struggle at some part of the racetrack. You just try to at least make the biggest corner and the straightaway good, and you try to get through the rest as best you can. Wherever you think you can make your passes, that's where you need to work on the car to get it the best you can. You've got to be really good off the tunnel turn and then down that short chute through turn three so you can carry that momentum off the corner and pass guys. That's what we focused on last time. We felt like the tunnel was our strong point. We're going back with the same setup, and then we'll work around the spoiler however the spoiler affects things."
Thanks to a pretty gutsy move at the end of last week's race at Charlotte, the No. 39 team moved into the top-12 in points. How big is that for this team, given how the year started out? And what is your focus now that you are in the top-12?
"I know I've said it several times -- we had bad luck early on, and we started out just like last year. Except this year, we ended up with three DNFs after Talladega, and that was pretty tough to swallow this early. But we never give up. We never quit. Ryan's the kind of fighter that this whole team has been since we came together at SHR last year. And if you ever put us in a position at the end of the race to try to make something happen, we'll be right there. This team has been through it all -- not just at SHR -- but from before. They're used to it. It's not a big deal. I think it would affect other teams more than it would affect us just because we've been through it all, it seems like. We like being the underdog where nobody talks about us. We like that we were able to sneak into the top-12, and to be able to stay there and make it into the Chase would be really good. It's really close, points-wise. You could go backward just as easily as you can go forward. We just need to be solid top-10 finishers and put some pressure on the guys in front of us. If we could ever get them looking behind them, paying attention to us, then they will make mistakes and, hopefully, we can stay in there."
Ryan's a big fan of Pocono away from the racetrack, too, because of what he terms "great fishing." You have both talked about bonding in the past in the outdoors. Do you have any plans this weekend at Pocono? And is it a competition between you two?
"Oh, yeah. We have some fishing plans. We're going to fish Saturday afternoon when the garage closes. There's always competition, absolutely. Whether we admit it or not, there is. It's always friendly fire. As long as we're having fun, that's all that counts. But we'll be talking about who beat who out on the water, I'm sure."