Posted: 17 May 2011 07:21 PM PDT
Photo by John Harrelson - Getty Images for NASCAR
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – For Ryan Newman, perhaps there’s no better time than this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, where the South Bend, Ind., native should embrace his new image as one of NASCAR’s “bad boys.”
After being embroiled in turmoil on and off the racetrack for a couple of weeks, Newman joked with the media gathered at Dover (Del.) International Speedway this past weekend that he was “kind of new to the bad boy market” and was learning the rules of being a “bad boy” as he went.
But, all joking aside, it just may take a “bad boy” to win this weekend’s Sprint All-Star Race.
On Saturday night, there are no points on the line, which means it’s no-holds-barred for the stars of the Sprint Cup Series. It’s the night when the best of the best battle it out for bragging rights, for glory and for $1 million. It’s the get-it-done-now type of racing that many of NASCAR’s stars grew up with.
The fender-rubbing, door-to-door beating and banging is sure to produce its fair share of fireworks under the lights. And while Newman may be new to his “bad boy” image, the 10-year veteran of the Sprint Cup Series knows just what it takes to get to victory lane in the All-Star event.
In fact, Newman’s entry in this year’s All-Star Race dates back to the year he won it all, when he was very much new to the Sprint Cup ranks – during his first full Sprint Cup season.
In 2002, it was the eventual Rookie of the Year winner Newman and his No. 12 team who claimed victory in the All-Star Race. Newman wasn’t even qualified in the main event at the start of the night but raced his way into the All-Star Race (then called The Winston) by winning the 16-lap No-Bull Sprint.
After racing their way into the show, Newman and his rookie team had nothing to lose. After all, they weren’t even supposed to be part of the show. The team strategized, Newman was able to drive his race, and he benefited when fans voted to invert the field for the final 20 laps. He took the lead with 17 laps to go and never looked back.
Newman and his team scored their first-ever Sprint Cup Series win together that May night at Charlotte and proved that the new kid on the circuit had what it took to come out on top.
In nine appearances in the Sprint All-Star Race, Newman has one win, three top-five and five top-10 finishes.
So far this season, Newman has posted four top-five and five top-10 finishes while leading laps in seven of the 11 races. Heading into this weekend’s All-Star event, Newman sits seventh in the Sprint Cup point standings, 76 behind leader Carl Edwards.
And while Newman is off to one of the best starts after 11 races in his Sprint Cup career, there’s one thing still missing for the team – its first victory of the 2011 season. Newman and his No. 39 Haas Automation team are locked and loaded for the 100-lap battle, where finishing first and collecting the big paycheck at the end of the night is the only thing that matters.
As a former All-Star Race champion, Newman knows it could pay big dividends to be the “baddest of the bad” in this typically intense, drama-filled showdown.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:
In 2002, you got your first-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in the non-points-paying All-Star Race. Talk a little bit about that All-Star win and what it meant to you.
“Honestly, until I won the Daytona 500 in 2008, the win in the All-Star Race was my greatest win, I thought, as a person and as a team. What we did and what we achieved that night, it’s all for the glory. Obviously, there’s some money on the line, but you’re in your own backyard and you’re in everybody’s backyard. When you win on the home field and it’s the race that’s the All-Star Race, it meant a lot to me. We weren’t even expected to be in it and that’s why it was even sweeter, yet, because we had to race our way in. I mean, we raced our way into the race and got the invert and walked away with it for a while, there. It was a close finish at the end, with (Dale) Earnhardt Jr. It was just a great team victory, and that’s what we’re here for as a team and as an organization, to put those events together, and it always doesn’t happen like that. In an All-Star Race, it’s that much more pride.”
What is it about the All-Star Race that as a driver you like so much?
“I think one of the coolest things about the All-Star Race for us is that it is a short race. It’s kind of like the races we all grew up racing – you have to make your move and you have to make it now kind of thing. It’s a unique layout, and to me that’s what makes it fun. You have the different segments and the rules, and the strategy changes each and every lap. The All-Star Race is huge in our eyes because it’s the All-Star Race, and it’s in our backyard, everybody’s backyard. It’s all about bragging rights. We’re all about beating each other at our own game at our home field, I guess you would say. It’s definitely a challenging race, but it’s a lot of fun. Everyone wants to come out on top not just for the $1 million, but also for the bragging rights. ”
You’ve won the All-Star Race before back in 2002. What is the strategy?
“As far as the race itself goes, I think the strategy changes every year. The race itself has changed a lot since then, too. The key is to be the fastest car for the last 10 laps, and there can be a lot of fireworks in those last 10 laps. That last segment is a lot of fun, and in my opinion, the shorter the race, the better. It just increases the intensity and the excitement for the teams and the fans. There’s always something crazy that happens before that last segment, but I just think during those last 10 laps, getting the job done is what it’s all about. It’s cool because there’s a pit stop at the beginning of those last 10 laps, which determines how the cars will line up, so there’s more emphasis on the pit crews than ever. I think that’s the way it should be because this sport is such a team effort. The No. 39 Haas Automation pit crew has really been at the top of its game lately. We’ve had solid pit stops and have been gaining spots on pit road. And, this weekend, those solid pit stops are going to be even more important on Saturday night.”
Last week, you said you were “new to the bad boy market.” What did you mean by that?
“I was having a little fun with the media. Obviously, the on-track incident that I was involved with at Richmond and then the meeting that we had in Darlington drew a lot of attention from the media for a week, until something else happened. I got asked a question about the incident and the ‘Boys, have at it’ rules, and I decided to have a little fun. Basically, though, we walk a fine line in this sport, and you don’t want to do anything detrimental to the sport itself. But as I pointed out, there’s a lot of history in our sport with not being pushed around or being the one that pushes around. Look at the first race on TV and the fight that happened out there between (Cale) Yarborough and the Allisons. There’s a fine balance for that, depending on the driver, the competition and the racetrack, where you’re at in the season, and all those things play a part of what you have to do as a driver to either get that respect or make sure you’re given that respect. For me, I want to talk about the racing itself and what a good show we put on for the fans. I don’t want to focus on the negative. My goal each and every week is to go out there and race the race and focus on what I need to do to win.”
We’re at Charlotte Motor Speedway, now, for the next two weeks. What is your favorite memory there?
“My All-Star win was really my moment that stands out. I’ve had nine poles there. I’ve won an ARCA race there. We led every lap and won a Nationwide race there. And all of that that was a lot of fun. But the All-Star Race, when we raced our way in to the race and then started last, made the cut, then got the invert and had a fast racecar, that was by far the coolest moment for me because nobody expected us to even be in the race. When you race your way in, then beat the best, in my opinion, that was a true All-Star moment. We’d like to have a chance to repeat that