KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Ryan Newman and the No. 39 U.S. Army Racing Team are on a mission – to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. And like the 1 million Army Strong Soldiers they represent across the globe, they will put the mission first, attacking their goals with focus, determination and a refusal to accept defeat.
Just five races remain before the 12-driver field is set for the 10-race Chase, which will crown the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. And as the series heads to Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International for the second and final road course race of the season, Newman is in the midst of a hotly contested battle for a coveted Chase berth.
Even with a win earlier this year at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and four consecutive top-10 finishes heading into Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355k at The Glen, Newman is one of five drivers outside the top-10 in points. It’s a precarious position to be in, for only the top-10 are locked into the Chase, which begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Chase positions 11-12 are wild cards and are awarded to those drivers between 11th and 20th in points who have the most wins. In the event of multiple drivers having the same amount of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Kasey Kahne holds the 11th-place wild-card spot thanks to his two victories, the most of any driver outside the top-10. Jeff Gordon vaulted into the 12th-place wild-card spot with his win last Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. And while Gordon has only one victory, just like fellow wild-card contenders Newman, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, his 13th-place point standing puts him in the 12th and final wild card spot via the tiebreaker.
Newman can take that wild-card spot by grabbing another victory in the next five races or by climbing into the top-10 in points. To do so, Newman and Co. will need to embody the same mental, physical and emotional fortitude of our Army Strong Soldiers. It will take a strength like no other, both on and off the racetrack, to successfully complete this all-important mission.
Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355k at The Glen is set squarely in Newman’s sights, for it provides the next opportunity to make the Chase. And while a win would obviously bolster his Chase chances, a triumph on the 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course would also help Newman achieve another personal goal – earning a Sprint Cup win on a racetrack with left and right turns.
The South Bend, Ind., native has 16 career Sprint Cup victories and they’ve come on a wide variety of racetracks – superspeedways, short tracks, high-banked ovals and flat tracks. But a road-course victory has proven elusive, at least in the elite Sprint Cup Series.
Newman came close to winning at Watkins Glen during his rookie year in 2002. He started fifth and led 11 laps before relinquishing the lead to his current teammate and car owner, Tony Stewart, who went on to win the race by 1.636 seconds.
In 10 career Sprint Cup starts at Watkins Glen, Newman has one top-five and three top-10 finishes. And while he hasn’t won there in Sprint Cup, Newman did capture a NASCAR Nationwide Series victory at The Glen in 2005.
Newman wears the U.S. Army logo that adorns the chest of his uniform and the hood of his racecar with great pride. To him, there would be no better way to thank the Soldiers he represents than by making the Chase for the fifth time, which would give the No. 39 U.S. Army Racing Team the opportunity to fight for the prestigious Sprint Cup title.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about the road course at Watkins Glen and your team’s strategy to try and make the Chase.
“We’re there to win. That’s the mission and that’s what we need to do. A win takes care of itself. We’re here to get the best finish we can for the U.S. Army Chevrolet. That’s pretty much it. I’m really proud of the team, and I’m really proud of the effort we’ve put forth these past several weeks. We’ve been consistent and we have four straight top-10s. We just need to improve on those top-10s and get that win. We made up some ground last week at Pocono, but now Jeff Gordon is in the battle, too. So, we just have to do everything we can do to get a win. We are determined and focused on what we need to do, and I know we’re not going to give up.”
What do you think about road-course racing?
“I like road courses. They’re difficult to pass on. It seems like there are only a couple of passing zones. I’ve always said the more corners there are without passing zones, the more opportunities there are to fall behind the guy who’s in front of the guy who’s in front of you. Road courses are unique in their own right. I wish we had a third one because I think they’re fun. To me, Watkins Glen provides better racing than Sonoma (Calif.) and I personally enjoy it a bit more. I really enjoy the challenge, the hustle of the racecar, the heavy braking. It’s not the easiest place to pass. Everybody kind of knows that. It’s a track-position race and fuel mileage has become a big part of the racing there. It’s usually a two-stop fuel race. You don’t get a lot of chances to work on your racecar, similar to places like Loudon and Richmond. To me, it’s just fun to hustle those cars around the racetrack. In road-course racing, the driver can make up more than he can at an oval just by being able to hustle a car. You have the added mannerism, I guess you could say, of braking. When you brake at short tracks, it’s not the same as when you brake and downshift. So, you have to be a smooth downshifter, you have to be a good braker. Obviously, you have to turn right. There are extra characteristics that you have to include at road courses that you don’t have to include at ovals. That separates the men from the boys, typically. We look forward to going there and doing well.”
What are the keys to running well at Watkins Glen?
“The real key to The Glen is being able to get through the carousel, to carry enough speed getting through the long sweeping corner and coming off of it to get a good run coming off the back chute. The carousel, turn one and getting through the esses are very important. It’s a place where you have to be considerate. Turn one has some rumbles in it. You can wheel-hop pretty easily getting into turn one. The esses are all about finesse going up the hill. And the fastest part of the racetrack is going into the bus stop, where you really have to brake hard. You try to carry as much speed over there and not overbrake. You can gain and lose so much time under braking. The bus stop and the carousel are all smooth and finesse for 90-degree turns. You have to get them right. It’s important to be smooth on road courses.”
You have 16 wins in the Sprint Cup series at 11 different racetracks. The only type of track you have not won on to date in the Sprint Cup series is a road course. What does that say about your driving ability?
“The fact is, I enjoy most all racetracks. There are tracks I prefer over others, but there are no tracks I truly dislike. It’s not like I say I hate going to this racetrack this weekend. So I think that helps in giving me an opportunity to be successful at most, if not all, of them. Just from a driving standpoint, I always said one of my heroes was A.J. Foyt. The modern-day A.J. Foyt is a guy who can drive anything, anywhere, any time. So, hopefully, I can create enough stats and increase the 11 of 16 into like 20 of 40, or something like that. We’ll keep working on it. I like all kinds of different racetracks. I haven’t won on the road course, yet, in the Sprint Cup series, but it’s something I’d love to do this year.”
Ryan Newman’s Watkins Glen International Performance Profile:
|2011||×Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen||6||16||Running, 92/92||0||$109,050|
|2010||Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen||19||12||Running, 90/90||1||$106,704|
|2009||Heluva Good! at The Glen||6||21||Running, 90/90||0||$96,704|
|2008||†Centurion Boats at The Glen||16||26||Running, 90/90||0||$104,700|
|2007||†Centurion Boats at The Glen||15||13||Running, 90/90||0||$101,825|
|2006||AMD at The Glen||3||8||Running, 90/90||7||$116,708|
|2005||†×Sirius @ The Glen||7||30||Running, 92/92||1||$103,266|
|2004||†Sirius @ The Glen||10||26||Running, 89/90||0||$101,032|
|2003||Sirius @ The Glen||13||9||Running, 90/90||0||$83,930|
|2002||Sirius @ The Glen||5||2||Running, 90/90||11||$107,725|
×Race length extended due to green-white-checkered finish.
† Qualifying canceled due to weather, starting position set via car owner points.