Posted: 26 Jul 2011 08:38 PM PDT
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Ryan Newman prides himself on being a racing historian.
Over the years, the Purdue University engineering graduate has meticulously studied the history of motorsports. He has learned name after name of numerous drivers in a variety of series and has put to memory stories of racetracks, racecars and the best races of all time – all of which he can studiously recall.
In Newman’s mind, knowing about and appreciating the sport’s past is just as important as being part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit today. That’s what makes this weekend’s outing to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400 so special for Newman.
For the South Bend, Ind., native, racing at Indianapolis isn’t significant just because he is a Hoosier. Instead, it’s the history of the 102-year-old Speedway that makes this weekend’s race one of the most important events he competes in each Sprint Cup season.
Newman has long said there is no other racetrack more noteworthy in the history of auto racing than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He respects the great drivers who have made headlines at the Brickyard – A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Mel Kenyon, the list goes on and on – and he counts them as his heroes. The races that have been run at Indianapolis, he counts among his favorites.
For Newman, it is an honor to simply walk through the Speedway’s Gasoline Alley as he knows he is following in the footsteps of some of his heroes. And he admits he has caught himself thinking about whose tire tracks he could be following as he peels out of pit road onto the racetrack.
Fresh off of his own history-making win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon two weeks ago, Newman hopes his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team can help add his name to the roll call of drivers who have kissed the Yard of Bricks.
The New Hampshire weekend was a banner event from start to finish for SHR as Newman and teammate Tony Stewart started 1-2 and finished 1-2, respectively. The last time a team started 1-2 and simply finished 1-2, regardless of driver starting and finishing position, was Hendrick Motorsports in the 1989 Daytona 500. However, the last time a team started 1-2 and finished 1-2 with the same drivers in the same order was back on April 7, 1957 at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway with DePaolo Engineering. There, Fireball Roberts won from the pole, while teammate Paul Goldsmith started second and finished second.
At New Hampshire, Newman drove his No. 39 Chevrolet from the pole and led six times for a race-high 119 laps en route to his 15th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at New Hampshire. It was the fourth time in his career that Newman won from the pole position.
With his name recently updated in NASCAR’s history book, Newman now wants a piece of history at Indianapolis.
In 10 starts at the Brickyard, Newman has started outside of the top-eight just one time. While he has made a habit of starting near the front of the field for the Brickyard 400, he has not enjoyed the same kind of success when it comes to recording solid finishes in the 400-mile race. In 10 starts, Newman has just one top-five at Indianapolis – a fourth-place effort during his 2002 rookie campaign.
For Newman, this could be the season to turn that stat around.
Thanks to his victory, Newman has moved to eighth in the Sprint Cup point standings, just 66 points behind leader Carl Edwards. Along with his win and pole at New Hampshire, Newman has collected six top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 19 races, in addition to leading 262 laps.
With the momentum of being the series’ most recent winner on his side while enjoying one of his most solid seasons to date, Newman hopes to translate his respect for Indy’s racing history, and respect for all who have gone before him at Indy, to being one of a select few who have etched their name in the storied Speedway’s history books.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Obviously, you were able to enjoy being the most recent race-winner for a couple of weeks, thanks to the weekend off. Were you disappointed to have that weekend off following a big win? And what kind of momentum does that win give your team going into the Brickyard?
“Doing what we do, we’ll take a week off any time we can get it. This is a demanding sport. We work so hard to get the things that we do on the racetrack, sometimes it’s nice to take a weekend off away from the racetrack, neutralize yourself. I had a nice week away, working on my hobby farm, and even went four-wheeling with (Tony) Gibson and some of the guys, so it was nice. It was kind of a Catch 22 having the off-weekend, but we’ve still got our momentum and we’re going to Indianapolis as the most recent race-winner, so we have that on our side.
“To be honest, though, we didn’t kick it out of gear for very long. And we are definitely going into Indianapolis with a lot of weight off our shoulders and a smile on our face, which is going to be really nice for our team and organization. New Hampshire was huge for our team and even bigger for our organization. I don’t know that I realized how big until the next day when I was doing interviews and someone told me the stat about the last time a team started 1-2 and finished in those exact positions. As much as I study the history of this sport, I was stunned by that stat and was really honored that I was part of something so big. We made that race ours – all the guys came together and made it happen – and I’m just really proud of what we have accomplished.”
You talk a lot about how much you love the history of motorsports and that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is crucial to that history. What do you mean by that?
“Coming to the Brickyard, I’ve always said that it’s special. The history of the sport, the history of motorsports here at this Speedway is something I have always appreciated, and I look forward to trying to add my name to that record book. To me, it is still awesome to either be a fan or a driver here at Indianapolis. To come down the front chute and hear the echo of the car, the horsepower, we approach 205 mph or whatever it is. Take a 3,400-pound car that is pretty top-heavy around the corner as fast as we do is really amazing. The cars have changed, the tires have changed, the racetrack has changed just a little bit, but the fans here are amazing. They keep coming back. I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to come to the Brickyard. I’ve always said that I love the history of motorsports and there’s no better place than the Brickyard when it comes to the history of speed.
“Like I said, the history of all of auto racing here at this racetrack means more to me than anything else. It’s a great race. It’s a unique racetrack. We all know that. It’s a lot of fun, especially when you’re up front. It seems like the straightaways go on forever, and you can just sit there and relax and drive the racecar. The racetrack is really fun to drive. It’s one of the hardest tracks to race, which is why some people love it and some people hate it. It’s really a deal where, if you have a fast racecar, you will have fun. If your car isn’t fast, it’s going to be a miserable day.”
Where would a win at Indianapolis and in your home state, rank for you?
“To me, Indianapolis ranks second to the Daytona 500. Not by much, but it is still second. This race hasn’t been going on as long as the Daytona 500 has, and winning in the 50th running of the Daytona 500 was something that was really special to me because of all the past winners who were on hand in the drivers meeting for that race. I kept thinking of the history of the race and that my name was joining some outstanding drivers as Daytona 500 winners. It was very special.
“So, the Daytona 500 is number one in my book. But there is more history here at Indianapolis, as far as auto racing as a whole, goes. Winning a race at Indy would be very special because of the significance of the track in the history of auto racing. And it would be very special to win in my home state. This race holds a lot of weight. But to me, it’s second.”
Do you have a favorite story growing up, or maybe even as a driver, from this racetrack?
“I would come around a little bit when the Indy cars ran here. I came to one race when I was probably about 6 years old and it got rained out. It was the year it rained until, I think, Tuesday, and I had to go back to school.
“But for me, one of the coolest things ever wasn’t at a race. I was down here with my mom. I forget if we were picking up tires at Hoosier or what we were doing, and we drove by the racetrack and we heard a different noise, and it was the stock cars. I couldn’t stand it. I had to go inside and see it. So, we snuck into the racetrack and came over and talked to Jeff Gordon and some other drivers, and it was just neat because we got to be here first-hand for when the stock cars hit the racetrack. That was a really big deal to me because racing in Indiana was always open-wheel cars, and I was a big NASCAR fan and I got to see them in my home state. It was in the early ’90s, but the bottom line was that it was cool to hear it and see it and remember it, and now I’m here racing stock cars.”
In your mind, what did the win at New Hampshire mean for you and your No. 39 team in the big picture?
“The win is huge for us. Our first win as a team was special. The No. 39 had never been to victory lane in the Cup Series. We chose that number because of me. We had a lot of work to do to get our first victory. But, for us to finally get the U.S. Army in victory lane a couple of weeks ago at New Hampshire, that was a goal we had way before the season ever started – for the soldiers, our sponsors, our team, our organization. Our win, the timing of it was perfect from a points standpoint, from a wild-card standpoint with respect to the points. It puts us in a lot better position, that’s for sure. Getting that win was a great bonus in itself. We’ve been so close so many times this year, we’ve finished in the top-five but just haven’t been able to get that win.”