Time to Rebound
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. –As a native of the basketball-loving Hoosier state, Ryan Newman knows the importance of a rebound. When the game is on the line, a key-timed rebound could change the whole complexion of the game and put your team back in contention for the win.
And a rebound is just what Newman and his No. 39 Haas Automation team need in this weekend’s STP 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
After a quick and impressive beginning to the 2011 season, Newman’s team has slowed in recent weeks.
In the season’s first five races, Newman was off to the quickest start of his three-year Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) career and possibly the best of his 10-year Sprint Cup career. He posted three fifth-place finishes and four top-10s in those first five races and was as high as second in the Sprint Cup championship point standings.
Regrettably, the team’s fortunes haven’t been quite as noteworthy in recent weeks. In the last seven races, Newman has scored just one top-10 – another fifth-place finish at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway – and has fallen to 10th in the standings.
While Newman admits the recent finishes haven’t been up to par with those earlier this season, he’s also the first to say there’s no reason for his team to get discouraged.
Instead, Newman compares it to a basketball game, when a team that had a lead suddenly falls behind with several minutes still to play. The team just needs a timeout to huddle up, take a deep breath, refocus and get back to what it was doing on the court before losing the lead – shoot, score, rebound. Or, in racing terms, qualify well, run up front and contend for the race win.
In 10 starts at Kansas Speedway, Newman has one win (2003), three top-five and four top-10 finishes. While Newman’s first three starts at the 1.5-mile track resulted in top-two finishes, Newman has not fared as well in recent years.
But a solid top-10 effort by his No. 39 SHR team at Kansas last fall and other recent solid runs at intermediate racetracks thus far this season have Newman looking forward to this weekend’s event.
While the game – rather, the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship – isn’t on the line just yet for Newman and his No. 39 Haas Automation squad, the team wants to get back to where it began the season sooner rather than later, especially with the hectic summer swing of races now in progress.
So, for this Hoosier, the goal for Sunday’s Kansas race is to summon some of his home state’s basketball-loving skills, rebound from his recent performances and turn the tide back around for the No. 39 Haas Automation team.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
This is the first year the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will come to Kansas twice – this weekend and then once again during the Chase. What are your thoughts on racing at Kansas twice?
“For me, I guess I’m like anybody else in that we don’t know exactly how it is going to be. Kansas has always been a one-off race for us, where we went once a year during the Chase. Now, this year, we still have the Chase race, but we’re also going to the Midwest in June and I think that raises a lot of questions for all of us. For me, I think about the racetrack and if the racetrack is going to be super slick because it is a hot, sunny day, especially if it is way hotter than it was in the fall. Those are the types of things we’ll be thinking about as we try to make our game plan about how to approach the race and practice. Since nobody has ever raced there in June before, it should make it interesting. I think it’s a little more of an even playing field when it comes to a race like this. Although the track isn’t new to the schedule, the timing of the race is and that can make a big difference. So, none of us have any notes. We all have a clean slate this weekend and I think anyone has the potential to be successful. To me, in the end, it is just another race, but I want to go there knowing what I need to do to my racecar to make it fast, to make it capable of winning.”
Kansas is one of several 1.5-mile racetracks on the schedule. Is there a particular track you can compare it to, or one that can help you and the No. 39 team prepare? For instance, does anything that you learn at Charlotte carry over?
I would probably give us a B-plus...
“As far as comparing it to Charlotte, there’s really no comparison in my opinion. It is a totally different racetrack. There’s much less vertical load there, and track position is even more important at Kansas. The seams with the asphalt are sensitive there, too. There are different things that, for sure, stand out at Kansas City compared to Charlotte. It used to be a place like Kansas was kind of similar to Las Vegas or Chicago. But with our tire situation that we have now, in reference to how many different tires we run throughout the year, there are much fewer similarities between tracks because of the tire differences.”
The No. 39 team had a pretty quick start to the season but, in recent weeks, the team has been slowed by some difficult runs, including being caught up in a big wreck at Charlotte last week. How would you grade your team this season, and what do you need to do to get back on the right side of things?
“I think it’s definitely been a good first third of the season for us. If I were grading us, I would probably give us a B-plus, right now. We started the season much better than we have in the past few years with our No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet. We have four top-fives. We’ve had some good runs and I feel like we’ve had a few chances to win a race or two already. And that’s definitely a good thing for this team. Unfortunately, we’ve been falling back in points and now we are 10th and that’s just due to a couple of bad finishes at Dover and Charlotte. Those races are usually pretty good tracks for us, but they were a struggle for us balance- and speed-wise this time around. We need to get back on track this weekend. The good thing is, I know this team is fully capable of more than that. At one point, we were second in points, and we can do better. We’ve got ourselves in a bit of a hole, points-wise. Ultimately, our main goal is to get a win. It’s honestly just like any other sport. You huddle up, you regroup, you make another play and go after it. Sometimes the play works and sometimes it doesn’t but, as a team, we have to make our strides and not quit. This summer stretch is going to be tough on everybody, and the best thing for us to do would be to get everything turned around this weekend at Kansas. We had a solid top-10 there last fall and I’m confident we can get back on track.”