KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Ryan Newman and his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing team have one goal over the final 10 races of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season – to be the best of the rest.
Last Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, Newman and his No. 39 team staged a valiant effort in the final race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, even leading laps for the first time since their win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on April 1.
But the solid eighth-place effort wasn’t the win Newman & Company needed to earn a coveted wild-card spot in the Chase, so Newman and his No. 39 Workshops for Warriors/Gene Haas Foundation Chevrolet are relegated to the outside looking in during this year’s battle for the championship.
While Newman and his team don’t have the chance to make a run for the championship, they still have the next 10 weekends to prove they are the best of the rest, starting with Sunday’s Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Newman’s team can’t dwell on the “what-ifs.” Instead, they’re focusing on their goals over the final 10 races of the 2012 season. They want to finish 13th in points, making Newman the highest non-Chase driver in the final standings.
In addition to Newman’s eighth-place effort at Richmond, the No. 39 team has earned six finishes of 11th or better in the last eight races. Newman and his team want to build on their top-10 finish at Richmond and their recent efforts. And, more than anything, they want to contend for wins the remainder of this season.
In 10 starts at Chicagoland, Newman has one pole (2002), one win (2003), two top-five and six top-10 finishes. Four of those top-10 finishes came in his last five starts at the 1.5-mile oval. That’s just the kind of performance Newman wants this weekend at Chicagoland in order to make a run at being the best of the rest as the 13th-place driver come season’s end.
Incidentally, that’s a role Chicagoland Speedway has successfully played in Newman’s career once before in 2003. During his sophomore season, Newman entered the Chicago race with two wins, seven top-10 finishes and five DNFs. He was 16th in points.
That weekend, Newman qualified what he termed a disappointing 14th for the 400-mile event, but determination and strategy played into his team’s favor during the race. In the end, Newman led twice for 67 laps, including the final 58, and won the race in near-dominating fashion. He beat now-teammate Tony Stewart to the checkered flag by more than 2.6 seconds.
For Newman, it was his third race win that season but, more importantly, it gave him and his team a burst of momentum for the second half of the Sprint Cup campaign. The win sparked a run in which Newman collected six victories in just 13 races.
In fact, starting with that Chicago race, Newman finished outside the top-10 only four times during the second half of 2003 (a total of 19 races including Chicago).
That’s just the kind of surge Newman is looking for in this season’s final 10 races.
While Newman’s goal is to be the best of the rest, his No. 39 Chevrolet carries a special paint scheme this weekend that recognizes an organization whose goal is to assist veterans in job training and helps them create the best post-military-service life possible. It’s called Workshops for Warriors and it was founded in San Diego, Calif., by U.S. Navy veteran Hernán Luis y Prado, who recognized and acted upon the need to help veterans find jobs after leaving military service.
The Gene Haas Foundation, formed in 1999 by SHR co-owner Gene Haas, has announced a grant of $50,000 to Workshops for Warriors, which assists the transition of veterans and injured veterans into civilian life through mentorship, training, and education.
In addition to the grant, Haas Automation has also entrusted the program with four Haas-CNC machines and made a donation of eight training simulators with a value of $444,000 to Workshops for Warriors. The money and the machines will be used to establish a machinist training program for military veterans.
Workshops for Warriors is a board-governed nonprofit organization that provides vocational training to veterans of the U.S. Armed Services. This hands-on training, as well as classroom education, ranges from hobby-level skills and access to common tools to fabricating commercially viable products on state-of the art machining systems.
Even though there are still 10 races remaining in the season, Newman and the crew chief Tony Gibson-led No. 39 team are looking ahead only as far as the next race. They know that knocking off the best possible finishes one race at a time will ultimately put the team right where it wants to be when the checkered flag flies at the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
Unfortunately, the No. 39 team fell short of making the Chase this season. How does that change how you approach each event these next 10 weekends? “Not making the Chase was definitely a big disappointment for us. I’m not going to lie, I was praying for rain when I was leading the race on Saturday night at Richmond, but it wasn’t meant to be. In the end, we didn’t have the consistency we needed to make the Chase. As for how we approach the next 10 races, it’s no different for me than it has been for the first 26 races. Our goal is to win every race we go to. Now, we know that isn’t realistic, but what I’m saying is we want to put ourselves in position to get the win or the best possible finish we can. Overall, our goal is to be the best of the rest of the guys out there and finish 13th in points, and that means we have some ground to make up. We need to find our consistency, and we want to be the non-Chase team that’s out there rattling off the top-fives and top-10s each weekend, and I know that the Workshop for Warriors/Gene Haas Foundation is a team that can do just that.”
While you aren’t in the Chase, your teammate and team owner Tony Stewart is. How much will you be helping him? “Obviously, I’m going to do everything I can to help Tony Stewart and our organization be successful in our quest for a second straight championship. That’s no different than what I did last year when I made the Chase but eventually fell out of the hunt for the championship. At the same time, my goal first and foremost is to get the No. 39 and its sponsors to victory lane. We have a lot of sponsors who are on our car, and we want to get them a win before the season is out.”
Talk about racing at Chicagoland Speedway. “Even though it’s a ‘cookie cutter’ racetrack, I look forward to it because of the 18-degree banking and the fact that it is kind of unique. Chicago is really a big circle. It’s always a track that has been rewarding if you are good in the corners because even the back straightaway has a kink in it. You have to carry a lot of momentum there. I always say I’m a fan of the banked racetracks and this is another track I have enjoyed racing, and it’s a track that has gotten better each year we’ve gone there. I’ve been fortunate enough to win there and, the past few years, we’ve had some solid top-10 runs there. This weekend, we need to have another one of those top-10 runs there. It’s really important for me and the team that we have a good run this weekend at Chicago so we can continue our momentum from a good run at Richmond and keep trying to make our way up in points so that we can finish 13th in the final standings.”
You have a special paint scheme on your car this weekend recognizing Workshops for Warriors, which is a nonprofit organization that helps veterans to find jobs after their military service. The Gene Haas Foundation has made a pretty substantial gift to Workshops for Warriors. Talk about what bringing attention to this charity means to you, personally. “Through our U.S. Army sponsorship, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of Soldiers who currently serve or have served our country. I’m honored to meet them and to represent them. What they do for our country to protect our freedoms and give us the ability to live our lives and do what we want to do is something we can’t thank them enough for. So, the fact we can give back and help them once they get out of military service is something I feel like we should all do. We should give back to them any way we can. The donation our team co-owner Gene Haas and his foundation have made to Workshops for Warriors is just another reason for me to be proud of the organization I drive for and represent. The donation of Haas Automation machines and money is going to help veterans get the job training they need so they can find work. I’m really proud to be able to bring attention to the charity and to what Gene’s foundation is doing.”