By Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM
July 02, 2011 11:15 AM, EDT
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The season-opening Daytona 500 proved that two-car tandem drafts are the way to win at Daytona International Speedway, and the spring race at Talladega Superspeedway proved it was the only way.
But it's more than passing strange that the two Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, owner/driver Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, may not spend much time working together in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400.
Stewart, who qualified 19th, said he wasn't concerned about the fact that he spent most of practice working with Front Row Motorsports Ford driver David Gilliland, nor that Newman, who qualified 11th, chose to go a direction with which he, too, had found success at Talladega.
"[Gilliland] was the only guy I ran with [Thursday] in practice and that's our plan for [Saturday] night, too," Stewart said. "It's kind of odd. The Hendrick cars and the Childress cars are all working together and Ryan and I have found two guys that we like working with.
"We spoke about it [Thursday] night because Ryan and I sat down for about an hour in his motor home and it's almost uncomfortable, because you're scared to make a mistake with your teammate being in front of you or behind you and getting each other in a bad spot where, if something happens, it's happened to both of you, not just one of you.
"I think it's my approach to how to run the race is different than his and he's found a guy with Denny [Hamlin] like I've found with David and like I found in the past with Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., when I had Bobby Labonte as a teammate.
"It's not that anybody's way of doing it is right or wrong, it's just if you find that person that you're comfortable with and that matches what your thought process is of how you want to run the race, then it seems to work that much better."
"We worked with the No. 11 [Hamlin] in practice," Newman said. "We haven't finished very well at all in the last two races so we're just going to go with the odds and see how that works."
"We know we can and we have here in the past and know we can do that," Stewart said of working with Newman. "It is just he has worked with Denny some and had done good with that and I've had good luck with David.
"It's different theories for different points of the race and doesn't mean one is right or wrong -- we just have two different approaches. Trust me; we are comfortable running with each other when it comes to the end if we need to."
Newman has had his moments at Daytona, including winning the 2008 Daytona 500.
But in the current era of tandem drafting at NASCAR's largest speedways, it's a "near-miss" that has more of Newman's attention, which he recalled Thursday with a laugh.
"I think it was here in the 500 that [Jeff] Gordon was pushing me and I thought he was going to drive me right into the biggest crash in my life and we ended up missing it," Newman said, laughing. "But he couldn't see. Every situation is different and the extra communication can be a benefit and it can be a hindrance."
To that end, Newman is one who will have multiple drivers and teams on his in-car radio.
"It's a difficult situation and something we've had to work through as teams and as drivers and crew chiefs to work with me being on somebody else's radio frequency or vice versa. But it's something that makes it a lot more interesting for me here, coming to the race."
It just leaves Gilliland shaking his head Friday as he talked about working with the two-time Cup champion Stewart.
"It's strange -- unlike [anything] you've ever done as a race car driver where you rarely, if ever, depend on someone else for help," Gilliland said. "But Tony and I worked together at Talladega and we've talked ever since there about doing it here. It's awful nice to have someone that committed to working with you and helping you.
"But the bottom line is you're doing what will give both of you the best chance to win the race."
"Teammates," no matter the color of car or uniform, creates strange bedfellows these days.
"It's kind of ironic how some of the things work out," Newman said. "Because we always talk about how much we work with our teammates and here, a teammate means a lot in the essence that it may not be your true teammate, your shop mate, but it may be a teammate of another team that helps push you or work with you in Daytona as well as Talladega."
And it leaves Newman's owner and real teammate Stewart equally pleased.
"We have a good car here and we have a good teammate in Ryan Newman that is good," Stewart said. "And our unofficial teammate in David Gilliland is good, too. We've been pretty excited about our car this week."
The Sprint Cup garage is split between drivers who love and those who aren't so thrilled by the current situation. Newman's a member of the former group.
"The tandem drafting is something I look forward to, much more so than the way it used to be, racing-wise," Newman said. "So we'll see if we can have some fun and put on a good show. It'll be interesting to see what the weather lets us do... But either way, I'm sure we can put on a good show for the fans on Saturday night."
"There's pros and cons to it, but there were pros and cons to three-wide and 11 rows deep, too," Stewart said. "The good thing is, paired up we actually have a chance to race other cars and you're not boxed in and stuck in a line trying to figure out if you're in the right line or not.
"It kind of is what it is -- it's just different. It's not better or worse, it's just different than what we've been doing in the past here."