Posted: 13 Apr 2011 09:58 AM PDT
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Expect the unexpected.
That’s Ryan Newman’s best advice when it comes to restrictor-plate racing and what fans might see at Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Of course, there may be no better driver than Newman to understand the concept of “the unexpected” when it comes to racing at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
For Newman, it’s been a series of unexpected incidents of the “wrong-place, wrong-time” nature at both restrictor-plate tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit – Talladega and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway – since joining forces with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2009.
In four starts at Talladega with the No. 39 SHR Chevrolet, Newman has been swept up in three late-race accidents – although one of those happened as Newman was approaching the checkered flag, and the end result a solid third-place finish. The most spectacular of those accidents came during both Talladega races in 2009.
In the spring race that year, Carl Edwards’ Ford spun in front of Newman’s Chevy as the two headed toward the checkered flag. Edwards’ car flipped over Newman’s hood and windshield before slamming into the catch-fencing that separates the frontstretch from the grandstands. Despite not being able to see through the massive damage his car received from the impact with Edwards’ car, Newman drove his No. 39 across the finish line in third place.
When the series returned to Talladega in the fall, Newman’s Chevy was hit from behind by another car, became airborne, made contact with the SAFER Barrier on the outside retaining wall while upside down, and then barrel-rolled twice before it came to rest upside-down in the grass on the inside of turn three. Newman was scored in 36th place after suffering his only DNF (Did Not Finish) of 2009.
Last year’s spring race saw Newman and his No. 39 Chevy relegated to the role of victim, once more. The seven-car accident happened on lap 188 – the first of three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish – when Newman was hit from behind in the middle of turns three and four. The tap turned Newman around and sent him into the outside wall, leading to a pileup during which the No. 39 Chevy was hit multiple times.
While Newman finally finished a Talladega race for SHR last fall, it wasn’t the run he and his team had hoped for as he finished 23rd.
So, perhaps it’s a good thing for the always-analytical engineering graduate from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., that he’s a firm believer in the law of averages. After being caught up in accident after accident at Talladega, Newman is confident his luck will change and that his “expect the unexpected” mantra will end positively for him and his team.
And, perhaps this is the year for Newman’s luck to change.
While the season-opening Daytona 500 didn’t show the finishing position reflective of the team’s effort, it was the best overall performance the No. 39 team had enjoyed at the 2.5-mile oval, or any superspeedway race, since it was formed. Newman’s No. 39 Chevrolet was a constant out front, led the most laps (37) and looked to be a sure bet for a top-five finish, or even the win. Unfortunately, Newman had to settle for a 22nd-place finish after being involved in an accident just four laps from the end of the race.
Since then, Newman has scored three top-five and four top-10 finishes in seven races to date this season. He currently sits seventh in points, 23 behind leader Carl Edwards, and is off to the best points start of his career.
This weekend, the only “expect the unexpected” moment that Newman & Company would like to see at Talladega is a reversal of fortune – a “right-place, right-time” move that includes a trip into victory lane for the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Restrictor-plate races have not been a strong suit for you and the No. 39 team. However, at Daytona, you were leading on the white-flag lap and ended up finishing third in the Budweiser Shootout. And then, in the Daytona 500, you led the most laps (37) and looked to be one of the strongest cars in the field. Has the tide changed for your team at the restrictor-plate tracks?
“Honestly, if you think about the law of averages, sooner or later we’re not only going to finish a race at Daytona and Talladega, but we’re going to get a good finish – maybe even a win – considering all the wrong-place, wrong-time wrecks we’ve been caught up in at both of the tracks. I think maybe our luck started changing at last year’s fall race at Talladega. We didn’t finish great –we finished 23rd, but we finished. And we followed that up with a really strong Speedweeks at Daytona, which was a first for us as a team. We led the most laps in the Daytona 500, which was a great feat for us as a team. It was the first time for me at a restrictor-plate track and the first time for me at SHR. And we feel that we were four laps away from winning that race which, if you equate it to math, time-wise it’s two-and-a-half minutes. To be two-and-a-half minutes away from something so big and get crashed is pretty disappointing. It happens, and it seems like it’s happened to us a lot, but we still left Daytona knowing we had something and we were in the mix to bring home the trophy, and that was a big deal for us. So, we’re looking forward to getting to Talladega and picking up where we left off and, hopefully, have some good luck from the green to the checkered flag.”
Daytona was a completely different beast this year with the tandem car drafts. What were your thoughts on the racing at Daytona, and what are your thoughts heading into our second restrictor-plate race of the season at Talladega this weekend?
“Before the race, I said to expect the unexpected, and I think that was entirely what we saw from the drop of the green flag at Daytona. To be honest, I’m expecting the same type of racing at Talladega this weekend, unless of course, NASCAR tells us not to expect it. The way you raced the race and the way you had to work with other partners who you partnered up with at some point during the night – everything was different and unexpected.
“The racing in pairs deal and how you raced was really unique. If you were out front, you could be pretty aggressive about it. If you were in the back, you had to really watch your gauges because the air flow was down. It was demanding. Honestly, I probably spent more time watching my gauges on the straightaway than I did my mirrors, at times, just because that was more important. I think I had like 11 or 12 different drivers on my radio and didn’t use it once, like a lot of the other drivers did. I didn’t need to because my spotter did a really good job of communicating with other spotters. It was just better for me to keep my hands on the wheel and watch the mirrors than it was to reach down and turn the radio knob.
“Switching (positions) was one of the toughest parts of it – getting that switch timed right and not losing the time that other teams were. When you can gain a second doing that, that’s sometimes better than what you could gain by having a different drafting partner. You did what you had to do. That’s what it amounted to. Sometimes you had to switch, sometimes you didn’t have to switch, depending on where you were in traffic. You had to have a lot of confidence in who you were working with.
“So, it was more a matter of making sure your partner knew and trusted what you were doing and the way the cars worked together. You’re relying on a very high percentage of somebody else’s talent to keep you out of trouble – the way the cars get back together, not getting turned around. It was very difficult trusting a teammate, let alone trusting someone who wasn’t a teammate when you’re going for the biggest race of the year. There’s a lot of trust that goes on, and there’s more trust than ever before when you’re doing those tandem drafts. It used to be you trusted somebody not to make a mistake so you were involved in the ‘big one.’ Now, you’re still worried about that in conjunction with who is the best person and most respectful to work with that your car will work well with. It’s what we do to get to the end of the day. It is different from every other sport, and I hope that’s one of the reasons the fans enjoy it.”
How mentally demanding is racing at tracks like Talladega and Daytona?
“Honestly, you prepare yourself from the moment you get to the track, and you know that you’re going to be using your head a lot when it comes to this type of racing. So, to me, it’s not too bad. I think I go into the race ready for it. For instance, at Daytona in February, I knew it was going to be different, but I knew it was going to be easy on the pedal work, but it was going to be really hard on the mind just as far as what’s going to play out, working together and really being on top of things. At Daytona, you had to be on top of things more from a communication standpoint than from a steering-wheel standpoint, and it will be like that this weekend at Talladega, too. It’s definitely a different mindset. I just think you have to be ready for it.”
RYAN NEWMAN’S TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY PERFORMANCE PROFILE
Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Laps Led Earnings
2010 †×Aaron’s 499 16 35 Accident, 188/200 1 $117,079
AMP Energy 500 8 23 Running, 188/188 0 $112,427
2009 Aaron’s 499 25 3 Running, 188/188 10 $201,104
†×AMP Energy 500 7 36 Accident, 183/191 3 $101,054
2008 Aaron’s 499 21 8 Running, 188/188 5 $149,500
×AMP Energy 500 24 43 Engine, 48/190 0 $112,653
2007 ×Aaron’s 499 28 9 Running, 192/192 0 $133,450
UAW-Ford 500 16 5 Running, 188/188 10 $149,025
2006 Aaron’s 499 18 33 Running, 106/188 0 $122,308
UAW-Ford 500 11 13 Running, 188/188 0 $94,983
2005 ×Aaron’s 499 5 39 Accident, 135/194 5 $120,041
×UAW-Ford 500 3 4 Running, 190/190 12 $172,041
2004 Aaron’s 499 17 11 Running, 188/188 1 $123,592
EA SPORTS 500 19 16 Running, 188/188 1 $112,492
2003 Aaron’s 499 8 39 Accident, 3/188 0 $93,215
EA SPORTS 500 12 4 Running, 188/188 0 $113,165
2002 Aaron’s 499 8 43 Engine, 141/188 3 $58,022
†EA SPORTS 500 7 7 Running, 188/188 3 $83,925
× Race length extended due to green-white-checker finish.
† Qualifying canceled due to weather, starting position set via car owner points.