KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – For Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Quicken Loans Racing team, this is it.
Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway is the race the team has been working toward since the green flag dropped on the 2012 season 25 races ago at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
This is the last race before the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set. And this is the No. 39 Quicken Loans Racing team’s last chance to lock itself into one of the two wild-card spots for the 10-race Chase.
For Newman & Company, the task is this: Win and you’re in.
Race-ending accidents at the last two races at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway led to finishes of 36th and 35th, respectively, for Newman. Consequently, his chances of earning his third Chase berth in the last four years took a big hit.
Only the top-10 in points are locked into the 12-driver Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. In the event multiple drivers have the same number 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. Kyle Busch remains in the 12th-place wild-card spot this week by virtue of his victory April 28 at Richmond, combined with his 12th-place position in the point standings, which is higher than fellow single-race winners in the top-20 in points – Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Newman and Joey Logano.
While Richmond has been a good racetrack for Newman, the 11-year Sprint Cup veteran knows it’s going to take more than just a good performance to earn a coveted spot in the Chase. Only a victory matters.
Newman has one win (September 2003) and one pole, five top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 21 career Sprint Cup starts at Richmond. And since joining Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2009, Richmond has been one of the better tracks on the circuit for the No. 39 team. In seven starts for SHR at the .75-mile oval, Newman has four top-10s and he has never finished worse than 20th.
With the stakes higher than they’ve been all season, it makes sense for Newman and the No. 39 team to take a tip from Detroit-based sponsor Quicken Loans by ignoring the noise that surrounds them. “Ignore the noise” is a saying Quicken Loans, the nation’s largest online retail mortgage lender, uses to keep its team members focused on providing the best and most efficient service to its clients.
As Quicken Loans explains it, “distractions may be all around you, but your determination to press on in spite of it (ignore it!) will make all the difference.” Ignoring the noise could be the best advice the No. 39 team gets all weekend.
Should Newman be able to vault himself from outside the top-12 into the Chase this weekend, it wouldn’t be the first time the Quicken Loans driver has made the Chase in the final regular-season race. He was one point outside playoff contention in September 2005 heading to Richmond, but grabbed one of the coveted Chase spots with a solid 12th-place finish.
Knowing it’s going to take nothing short of a win to make the Chase this time around, Newman and the No. 39 team know it will be imperative to put all their energy, focus and determination on the race itself and do whatever it takes to drive the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet straight to victory lane and into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.
Talk about the position you’re in heading into Saturday night’s race at Richmond, which is the last race before the Chase. “We’re definitely not in an ideal position right now. I know, as a team, we had hoped we would be securely in the top-10 in points when we got to Richmond and not have to rely on our win at Martinsville, but that’s not the case. Right now, not only do we need our Martinsville win, but we really are in a spot where we have to win this Saturday night at Richmond to beat out the other drivers who are fighting for the final wild-card spot. We’ve gone into Richmond before not knowing if we were going to make the Chase, and we got in based on our performance that night. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. That’s our goal for this weekend. If any team can fight and mount a comeback, I believe we can. My Stewart-Haas team has proven that time and again. “
At Quicken Loans, there is a saying, “Ignore the noise.” With you being one of several teams with a chance at a wild-card spot Saturday night, how important is it for you and the team to heed the advice of Quicken Loans by ignoring the noise? “I really like the whole concept Quicken Loans has of ignoring the noise. What they’re saying is, if you focus on the task at hand, your determination to succeed, in spite of all the noise around you, will pay off. And I hope our Quicken Loans team can do just that this weekend. We have a goal and that’s to go into Richmond and win the race. That’s what is going to get us in the Chase. That’s what we have to do. As far as the pressure, I honestly don’t put pressure on myself. Maybe other people try to put pressure on me, but I don’t let them. I know I have a job to do and I know I’m fully capable of doing my job and doing it the best I can. If we are successful as a team, that will happen. We are dealing with other teams that are incredibly successful. I believe we are fully capable of getting a win this weekend at Richmond and making the Chase.”
What do you need out of your car at Richmond? “The biggest thing at Richmond is, it’s pretty high braking, so you have to keep a brake pedal in the car all night. But, like I’ve always said, using that brake pedal is one of the reasons I enjoy short-track racing so much. As a driver, it’s important for me to be smart on the racetrack and keep my head about me. Track position at Richmond is typically pretty important. It’s hard to make up a lot of ground there. You can go from the back to the front, but it takes a lot of the race to do it. It’s also a place where strategy, as far as getting off-sequence on tires, has potential to make a big difference. So this is a big race where, not only is it important for the driver to be at his best, but the pit crew has to be on top of it all night. We need to maintain and gain positions in the pits.”
You’ve already won on a short track this season – at Martinsville – and now you need a win this weekend at Richmond. Why do you like short tracks so much and what makes you so good on those types of tracks? “I like using the middle (brake) pedal. In all seriousness, I think it adds another parameter of a driver’s input when you have to modulate that third pedal. We have to go to places like Vegas and you’re using very little brake. When you’re using a little bit, it’s hard to screw it up. I think our team has done a really good job with the brake package we have. I like the short tracks. I like having the character added to the program of modulating the brake. Places like Martinsville, Phoenix and Richmond, we’ve been really strong as a team. For us at Martinsville, our team didn’t give up when everything was against us. I was really proud of how we fought back from being a lap down on the racetrack, with our strategy and in the pits. Then we put ourselves in position to win the race, and we did what we needed to do. We’re looking forward to getting back to a short track this weekend.”