Every time Ryan Newman drives through the infield tunnel at Daytona International Speedway, he can't help but smile.
That's when he takes a minute to let his mind wander and flash back to February 2008 and his personal triumph at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
The date was Feb. 17, and it was the day all the hard work and sacrifices Newman and his family had made through the years finally paid off. It was the day Newmans dreams came true the day he hoisted the Harley J. Earl Trophy in Daytonas famed victory lane and became a Daytona 500 champion.
Newman, who had led only a handful of laps during the 200-lap event, took the lead on the backstretch of the 2.5-mile superspeedway on the final lap and was pushed to victory by then-teammate Kurt Busch, with Newman's dad, Greg, spotting.
As his dad called him across the start-finish line, Newman said he could hear his father's teardrops over the radio.
The memory makes Newman smile.
Unfortunately, in recent years, there haven't been a lot of smiles for Newman & Company at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
In fact, it's been a series of wrong-place, wrong-time incidents that have either put Newman out of the race for good or have caused so much damage to his race car that he could do little more than limp to the checkered flag.
Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, the season after his Daytona 500 victory, Newman's best finish at Daytona was 20th in the July 2009 Coke Zero 400, and he's endured three finishes of 34th or worse.
Despite the trials and tribulations, Newman remains confident his No. 39 crew can get him back to victory lane at Daytona, where smiles are always aplenty.
And the Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday night would be the perfect time for the No. 39 Chevy to get back out front and back to Daytonas victory lane to allow Newman and his team to show off their pearly whites. New sponsor Aspen Dental, a network of full-service dental practices providing quality and affordable care in 22 states, adorns the race car's hood for the first of two races this season.
For Newman & Company, a win at Daytona also would have added significance as the No. 39 team is in a heated battle for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
With nine races to go before the Chase gets underway, Newman is 15th in points. Earning a second victory to go with the teams win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on April Fools Day would help the No. 39 Aspen Dental team in its goal of clinching one of the coveted top-10 positions in the points that clinches a Chase berth, or securing one of two wild-card berths into the Chase.
In addition to his Daytona 500 win, Newman has a 2000 ARCA Series victory and a 2004 International Race of Champions series win at the Florida superspeedway. So he knows that getting a win at Daytona takes the perfect combination of skill, preparation and luck, as well as a touch of magic. He's done it before and, if those critical components fall perfectly into place under the lights Saturday night, Newman will be all smiles once again along with his Aspen Dental team.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Aspen Dental Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You won the 50th running of the Daytona 500. What did that win mean to you, personally?
I guess once you've won the race (Daytona 500), it is always special to come back and be a part of the sport that you love. I think it's something I always think about when I go back, and its something that definitely brings a smile to my face. My win there in the 50th Daytona 500 was nothing short of a dream come true. I had always said that just to race at Daytona was an honor, and to win at the track during the historic 50th running was something very special to me. And to do it the way we did with my teammate pushing me and to hear my dad (Greg Newman) call me across the start-finish line to take the checkered flag and win the biggest race of my career was a moment I will never forget. I always say I could hear my dads teardrops on the radio that evening, and I could. I still don't know exactly what to say when people ask me about the Daytona 500 win. It was by far the biggest day in my career. It was the culmination of everything that and my family and I had sacrificed for all those years of building my racing career and getting me to that moment.
How much of racing and winning at Daytona is luck versus skill?
I've always said there is luck in racing. You create the destiny of your own luck. That luck can be good or bad. You have to prepare yourself to get out of the bad luck and into the good luck. When I won, part of it was lucky, part of it was the timing of things, part of it was Kurt driving his tail off to get behind me coming off Turn 2. That was skill, and for me it was luck. It's all a matter of opinion. You can ask the 42 other guys out there, and they might have thought I got lucky when I won. For me, I thought it was skill.
How will the heat this weekend affect the cars and the tandem racing style, as well as the drivers in the Coke Zero 400?
The heat definitely has an effect on the cars and how long we can drive together or stay in the tight packs. I don't think the heat will have an effect on the grip of the racetrack and being able to do what we do in the corners and in the straightaways. The biggest thing is that if it is hotter, you're going to have to save your car because as you go into night, if it does cool down, which sometimes it never does, there, you want to be there at the end and you can start being a little more aggressive toward the end of the race. As far as the heat and the drivers, well, that's the same for everybody. It's hot.
What is the key to Daytona?
That's almost like a trick question. The key to Daytona is having a good-handling race car and good luck on the same day, which is, unfortunately, something we have not had recently at Daytona or at any superspeedway race we have been part of pretty much since I've been at Stewart-Haas. Unfortunately, we've been involved in several incidents not of our own making, and we have been through a lot of cars. My crew chief, Tony Gibson, keeps telling me that sooner or later our luck is going to turn around at these superspeedway races. He says the odds are in our favor, and I sure do hope he is right because I sure would like to not just finish one of these races but get the top-10 finish or better that I feel like we have deserved so many different times at that track. I'm hoping that having a new sponsor on our car this weekend will bring us some good luck. Since Aspen Dental is a all about creating healthy, happy smiles, it sure would be nice if we could all be showing off some big smiles at the end of the race in victory lane.
You are currently 15th in points and in a pretty heated battle to make it into the Chase whether by virtue of getting into the top-10 or by getting one of the two wild-card spots. How much do you focus on the points now, and what do you have to do?
Last week was definitely disappointing. We had a strong race car at Kentucky before we lost the motor, and I'm pretty sure we were going to have a good points day, but our day ended early. For me, it was important to focus on the positive, and that was it had been a good rebounding weekend up to that point, and that's what we needed. Theres no doubt we need to get back to getting top-10 finishes and into the top-10 in points. 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. But right now, we've got what we've got. Thats what we've accomplished so far. And were going to go out this weekend and do the best we can to improve on last weekend. I'm confident we have what it takes to get into the Chase. Hopefully, we will have some good luck this weekend.