Marching into Martinsville with Momentum, Consistency
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (March 29, 2011) – “As any athlete knows, momentum is the most unstoppable force in sports. The only way to stop it is if you get in your own way, start making stupid mistakes or stop believing in yourself.” – Rocco Mediate, professional golfer
Perhaps the only team riding a bigger wave of momentum this weekend than Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Haas Automation team as it marches into Martinsville (Va.) Speedway could be the state’s own Cinderella story – the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams men’s basketball team, who will play in the NCAA Final Four in Houston with a shot at the national championship game for the first time in school history.
Last weekend, VCU became one of the most unlikely teams ever to advance to the Final Four in NCAA tournament history. Many sports pundits questioned whether the team should even be in the tournament when the brackets were announced. But since the team’s play-in game, VCU has won and advanced in five games against well-known teams from powerhouse conferences proving that it’s difficult to stop a team with momentum.
With VCU’s march to the Final Four, the state of Virginia has become home to one of the best feel-good sports stories of the year. This weekend, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Martinsville for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500, Newman hopes to capitalize on his team’s consistency, keep its momentum rolling, and capture some of the “Old Dominion State’s” positive sports energy for his own use.
Newman and his team have been riding high since last year’s final stretch of races, during which the No. 39 Chevrolet posted finishes of 11th or better in nine of the final 13 outings of 2010. So far, it’s obvious the momentum from that string of strong finishes has carried over into 2011.
With five races in the books, Newman has posted four solid top-10 finishes – fifth-place efforts at Phoenix International Raceway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., along with a 10th-place effort at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. And Newman has led laps in four of the five races so far this season. In fact, Newman led the most laps (37) at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in the season-opening Daytona 500, which was a first for Newman and the No. 39 team at any race since they joined forces in 2009.
Now sitting second in points, just nine behind leader Carl Edwards, Newman is enjoying the best start to a season since his rookie campaign in 2002, when he finished sixth in the championship and earned the 2002 Rookie of the Year title.
As for Martinsville, in 18 career starts at the Virginia short track, Newman has three poles, six top-five finishes and nine top-10s.
For Newman & Company, Martinsville is the perfect place to continue its upward march in the standings. In fact, the .526-mile paperclip-shaped oval has been one of the team’s best tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit. In four starts with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) at Martinsville, Newman has earned one pole and posted one top-five and three top-10 finishes.
There’s no doubt the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet’s consistency and momentum have served as the building blocks for the driver and the team to this point in the season. Just as the Rams of VCU have met and conquered each competitor they have faced, Newman and his SHR team will take the measure of 42 other cars and work to build on their success with a trip to victory lane at Martinsville.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
The No. 39 team has a history of doing well at short tracks. What is it about short tracks that you like?
“I like using the middle (brake) pedal. In all seriousness, I think it adds another parameter of a driver’s input when you have to modulate that third pedal. We have to go to places like Las Vegas and you’re using very little brake. When you are using a little bit, it’s hard to screw it up. I think our team has done a really good job with the brake package that we have. I like the short tracks. I like having the character added to the program of modulating the brake. In my opinion, the driver has a little more of an impact on the end result at short tracks than some of the bigger racetracks, and I like that. The more the drivers are involved, the more I think you get to race and, from that standpoint, I think it’s more fun. Tony Gibson (crew chief) has some great setups with our short-track program. I enjoy them, he enjoys them, and we just go out there and have some fun. We’ve had a good car each time we’ve been to Martinsville. Gibson is a great fan of Martinsville and short-track racing, and he’s got a great understanding of the racecar there and what I like, and that makes a big difference, obviously, for me. We’ve been able to get three top-10 finishes in our four trips to Martinsville. Last fall, we had a rare issue that took us out of contention, so we’re looking forward to getting back on a streak of good runs at Martinsville.”
While you have run well at Martinsville, only two drivers have won there in the last nine races (Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson). With how strong the No. 39 team has run at Martinsville in the past, and how strong the program appears to be right now, are you on par to beat the two guys who have dominated the competition there in recent years?
“I think the competition is still really close I just think those guys have risen to the top at that racetrack, which is entirely unique to anything else we have on the schedule. I think that, in itself, Martinsville being Martinsville is part of it. The other part of it is the drivers have to really modulate that brake pedal, which is another part of it. You can have the best car there and burn the brakes off of it and finish 35th. I have actually blown two tires out, melted the beads on two tires at one time and blew both of them at the same time, which I thought was pretty cool, afterwards. But seriously, we’ve been good there – we have been really good – especially on Fridays, and we seem to start off a little slow on Sundays and end up in the top-five or top-10. I thought last fall was going to be a good race for us had we not lost a gear because we were leading at the time. I think we have made some pretty big gains to try to catch those guys and surpass them, so I think the No. 39 team is looking forward to getting back to a track that has been really good for us.”
You’re currently second in points. It’s by far the best start you have had since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s also the best start to a season you’ve had since your rookie campaign in 2002. To what do you attribute the success of the No. 39 team this season, as opposed to the previous two?
“I keep saying it, but I’m really just so proud of everything that Stewart-Haas Racing has accomplished in these first five races. I didn’t know it’s my best start since 2002. That’s a while back but, for us, it’s been a really great start for our season by our standards that we set in the past two years, which we weren’t proud of, but we always knew we were capable of more. I don’t know what the difference actually is – I know we’ve been on the good side of some luck. Even with the little bit of bad luck we had at Daytona, we led the most laps. Then, for instance, the crash that happened off turn two in Phoenix. I was in the middle of everything but came out of it with just a little minor damage. The year before that, or the year before that, we honestly would have been caught up in that wreck.
“I think the team as a whole has done a good job of having cars that are performing well so that we are in a better position. Our pit crew has done a much better job this year to open the season than it has in the past. And, in saying that, I think with our start to the season – meaning the No. 39 side – I think that also helps the No. 14 side because we have two teams that are starting off well, versus one team that has notoriously started off well – not as well as Tony is – but well. Just the overall strength and the backbone of our team and our organization is much better and stronger than it has been, and part of that is just pure confidence from the first five races. Our goal is just to keep it up.”