That's what Ryan Newman and the U.S. Army ROTC Racing team did last July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon when the team took a dominant racecar from the pole position to victory lane. While it was Newman's second victory since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, it was his first in the U.S. Army Chevy.
Since sliding behind the wheel of the Soldiers racecar for the first time at Daytona International Speedway in February 2009, Newman had asserted his desire time and again to get the U.S. Army Chevy in victory lane and to win a race for the more than 1 million soldiers who protect and serve our country.
While Newman had come close to winning in the U.S. Army Chevy on numerous occasions, he had never captured that top spot until last July. But just like the U.S. Army Strong Soldiers that Newman and his team represent, they never quit and refused to give up.
Newman carries a badge of honor in the star of the U.S. Army logo that adorns the chest of his uniform and the hood of his racecar. Each week, he would strap on his helmet with a renewed sense of determination and desire to get the soldiers to victory lane.
Finally last July, when the checkered flag waved at Loudon, Newman & Company were able to say, Mission Accomplished.
After earning the pole position in qualifying, Newman went wire to wire, driving from his No. 1 starting spot to victory lane. The win that day helped secure Newman a spot in last season's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship and served notice to his competitors in the garage that he and his No. 39 team were both determined and daring when it came to completing their mission by winning the race.
During that July race, crew chief Tony Gibson made a gutsy call to keep Newmans superfast No. 39 Chevrolet out front rather than pit under caution. Only once during the 301-lap race did Gibson call for a four-tire change. In the end, after Newman pitted for the final time on lap 217, Gibson spent the final 84 laps urging his driver to save fuel at every opportunity.
The bold call paid off and landed Newman in victory lane for the first time in 47 races. Newman led six times for 119 laps, and it was just the fourth time that he had won from the pole position.
The win was all part of a banner weekend for SHR. Newman and his teammate and team owner Tony Stewart started 1-2 and finished 1-2. The last time a team started 1-2 and finished 1-2 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, where DePaolo Engineerings Fireball Roberts won from the pole while teammate Paul Goldsmith started second and finished second.
As the Sprint Cup Series makes its first trip of the season to the 1.058-mile New Hampshire oval this weekend, Newman and the No. 39 team find themselves in the midst of a tight battle to earn a berth in the 2012 Chase for the Championship via a wild card spot. Newman is currently 15th in points.
Newman knows that to make the Chase and fight for the championship, the team must carry momentum from last weekends fifth-place finish at Daytona and maintain that strength on the racetrack for the next eight races. While his one win earlier this season at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway puts him in contention for one of the two wild card spots, solid performances and a second victory would go a long way to help Newman's cause.
And perhaps there's no better racetrack for Newman to get that second win and help him on his way to the Chase than New Hampshire. In 20 starts at the flat, paper-clip shaped track, he has a track-record six poles, three wins (September 2002 and 2005, July 2011), six top-fives and 13 top-10s.
With Newman and his Gibson-led race team in the midst of a hotly contested battle to make the Chase, expect the U.S. Army ROTC Racing team to take a page from its U.S. Army counterparts, where its soldiers put the mission first and display a never-quit attitude and a refusal to accept defeat.
While the ultimate goal is a spot in the Chase, this weekend's goal for Newman & Company is a return trip to New Hampshires victory lane. Once there, he would love nothing more than to make the simple declaration, Mission Accomplished.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army ROTC Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Describe what it meant to you to accomplish your personal mission by getting the U.S. Army to victory lane at New Hampshire last July?
We'd tried so hard for two-and-a-half years to get the U.S. Army in victory lane. We'd been close, but we hadn't been able to do it. It was disappointing because it's a very personal and honorable thing to represent a million soldiers, and we wanted to make them proud by getting their racecar into victory lane. When the checkered flag waved and I realized we had finally accomplished the mission of getting the U.S. Army a win, I was so happy. If it weren't for the soldiers who protect and serve our country, I wouldn't be able to do what I do. Carrying the American flag in my racecar after that win was very special and something I will never forget. I hope we can make them proud again this weekend.
You have six poles and three wins at New Hampshire. What makes you so good at New Hampshire?
That's actually kind of funny because I used to say New Hampshire was my least favorite racetrack. But it's far from that now. It's still not my favorite racetrack, but I really look forward to coming back there each year. New Hampshire has always been a good place for me. I'm not 100 percent sure why. It's the place of my first win, and when I hadn't won in a long while, 70-some races, I won again there. Last July, we were able to qualify and finish 1-2 at Stewart-Haas. So, I really look forward to it, obviously. For whatever reason, and I still don't know the answer as to why, I enjoy Loudon. 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 accomplished.
Why did you say New Hampshire was your least favorite racetrack?
Loudon has just always been a difficult track to pass. And from a racecar driver's standpoint, you want to go out there and say that, if I have a good car, I can go out there and start last and win this race. And you cant always do that there. That's just a rule of thumb and generic explanation for why its not perfect. Other than that, it's short-track racing. It's fun but its really difficult to pass, at times, there. It all depends on the tire they bring and how good your car is. To me, personally, I feel like I'm competitive as a driver at all the tracks but, obviously, it takes a good crew that understands the car and the track and strategy and everything else. We've just done well there. It's clicked.
What are the keys to running so well at Loudon?
I think this track is the key place when it comes to being aggressive and patient all at the same time. There is a different style of driving that you have to have there. You can't really be overaggressive at this racetrack. It's kind of a combination of patience and aggressiveness. You want to take what the car will give you because the track is flat. With banking, the faster you go, the more it pushes the car down into the racetrack. We don't have that there, so it's just a matter of feeling that razor-blade-edge of grip and getting everything you can and I've been successful at it there. It's kind of clicked with me since the beginning. I really like the racetrack and obviously know how to drive it, which is a big part of it. It's a good place to start up front because it's a short race, and it's not the easiest place to pass.
Assess where you are at this point in the season.
Finishing the race at Daytona was so big for us on a lot of levels. I would like to think it will give us some momentum heading into this final stretch before the Chase. Loudon is a place where we at Stewart-Haas have done an awesome job in the past. We look forward to going there. The stretch going into Indy and, obviously, the Chase, its important.
This weekend, you have the Army ROTC on your hood. Talk about that.
I always say what an honor it is to represent a million soldiers but, for me, it's especially cool to carry the Army ROTC logo. As a college graduate, I value the importance of that education and, in my role with the U.S. Army, I talk to a lot of high school students about how valuable that education is. It's special to have the Army ROTC on the car because the ROTC provides the youth of our nation multiple educational and leadership opportunities.