KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – As a native of the basketball-loving Hoosier state, Ryan Newman knows the importance of a rebound. When the game is on the line, a key-timed rebound could change the whole complexion of the game and put a team back in contention for the win.
As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the home state of the NCAA men’s basketball national-champion Kentucky Wildcats for Saturday night’s Kentucky 400 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, it seems appropriate that a rebound should be the name of the game for this Hoosier who grew up both playing hoops and racing.
Newman is 13th in the driver standings, 143 points behind leader Matt Kenseth, and he has one win to his credit at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on April Fools’ Day. But it has been three months since he had his last top-10 finish in a points-paying race.
In the last 10 races, Newman has had one DNF (did not finish) and five top-15 finishes, but none higher than 12th place.
While Newman admits the recent string of finishes outside the top-10 has been frustrating, he’s also quick to say his team is capable of turning its fortunes around and getting the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet back into the top-10 on the racetrack and in the standings.
Just like in a basketball game, all the team needs is to huddle up, take a deep breath, refocus and get back to the basics – shoot, score, rebound. Or, in racing terms, qualify well, run up front and contend for the race win.
Saturday night’s race at Kentucky could be just the place for the No. 39 squad to do just that. Newman has a solid history at the 1.5-mile oval in the Bluegrass State.
In August 2000, in just his third stock-car start, Newman scored his first-ever stock-car pole in the ARCA series race at Kentucky. He dominated that event, leading 83 of 134 laps, and won by almost a full second to score his second consecutive ARCA victory.
Then, in last season’s inaugural Sprint Cup race at the Kentucky oval, Newman finished a strong fourth.
While the game – rather, the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship – isn’t on the line just yet for Newman and his No. 39 team, it’s time to get back into the top-10. So, for this Hoosier, the goal for Saturday’s Kentucky race is to summon some of his home state’s basketball-loving skills, rebound from his recent performances and turn the tide back around for the No. 39 Tornados team.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You had a top-five finish at Kentucky last year. How does that track compare to the other 1.5-mile tracks on the schedule?
“Kentucky’s got a lot of character because it’s pretty bumpy. Last year, I enjoyed the race there. It was interesting. That was kind of our first experience with going into a racetrack and getting more practice sessions and more time on the racetrack before we actually started our weekend. We learned a lot there about Kentucky, having not tested there for a while. I look forward to going back there, not just because we ran well there last year, but because it’s a fun racetrack.”
What are your thoughts on going to Kentucky?
“I look forward to going to Kentucky. I was one of the first people to win at Kentucky Speedway back in the ARCA series when they opened the place up in 2000. I think it was actually the track’s third race at that point, or something like that. I started on the pole, led a lot of laps and ended up winning the race, which was a pretty big feather in our cap at that point in time. It was my third start for Penske Racing in the ARCA series and I ended up getting my first pole and my second win. So it was a pretty big deal for me and that team at that point in time. Then, going back to Kentucky last year for the first time was pretty cool for me. And for us to have such a good run there made it even better.”
You had a top-five finish at Kentucky in your first outing last season. Talk about that fourth-place effort.
“We really struggled at Kentucky last year during the race. We got a lap down and, thanks to some good adjustments by (crew chief) Tony Gibson and some strategy, we finally got it back. I guess you could say we made the best of a good situation. And then, on the last restart, I did what I had to do, kept it clean and ended up gaining a lot of spots in the final two laps. In the end, we proved we had a decent racecar, just took forever for us to get there. I know we learned a lot from that race so, hopefully, that will help us get started on the right foot with practice and on into the race this weekend.”
As we get closer to Richmond and the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, is there a time when you start looking at where you are in the standings and worry more about wins than where you finish?
“I don’t worry about that. Obviously, I know what my stats are when it comes to having the one win and where we are in the points. But, our goal is to go out there and win every race and that’s everybody else’s goal nine times out of 10. You do the best you can. It would be great to have two wins. We would have loved to win the first two races of the year, too. It doesn’t change anything. That’s what we’ve got. That’s what we’ve accomplished so far. Going into Richmond, that may weigh into it. Hopefully, it doesn’t. Hopefully, we’re in the top-10 and there’s no worry about where we are in the wild-card chase.”
Nine races away from the Chase, how do you assess your season so far?
“We’ve had an up-and-down season. Obviously, Martinsville was awesome for us but, since then, we haven’t been that strong. We need to be a little bit better. I think we’ll get things turned around. We’re still in a championship-contending position. We still have great opportunities with another win, and we still have plenty of time to move up in the points and be in the top-10. We just have to do a little bit better of a job. I can look at the races where I feel like we have given up better finishes, but I can’t focus on that. Instead, we’re looking ahead and we know we are capable of getting top-10 finishes every week. Doing that is the key.”
RYAN NEWMAN’S HISTORY AT KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY
|2011||†Inaugural Sprint Cup Event||18||4||Running, 267/267||0||$135,860|
† Qualifying canceled due to weather, starting position set via fastest lap in Friday’s practice.