KANNAPOLIS, N.C. -Ryan Newman needs another “Bloomin’” win.
It was in his very first outing with sponsor Outback Steakhouse that Newman reigned victorious in NASCAR’s version of overtime at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
This weekend, as the No. 39 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) takes the track for the second time this season wearing the colors of Outback Steakhouse, Newman and his team find themselves in need of another victory in Saturday’s annual Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway as the weeks wind down toward the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
Thanks to Sunday’s eighth-place finish at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Newman held onto the second of two Chase wild-card spots with three races to go before NASCAR’s version of the playoffs begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Only the top-10 drivers in the points are locked into the 12-driver, 10-race Chase. Positions 11 and 12 are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points who have 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 this season, the most of any driver outside the top-10. Newman maintains the 12th-place wild-card spot by virtue of his April 1 victory at Martinsville combined with his 13th position in the point standings, which is higher than his fellow single-race winners in the top-20 in points – Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano.
There’s no doubt it will remain a hotly contested battle to earn a wild-card berth, and Newman and his Outback Steakhouse team are doing everything in their power to keep the wild card in their possession. For Newman, there’s one sure way he could help his cause, and that would be to get a win this weekend and go two-for-two in the Outback Steakhouse livery.
Newman enters this weekend’s Irwin Tools Night Race with six consecutive finishes of 11th or better, five of which have been top-10s. He hopes to add to those impressive numbers by continuing his recent string of solid performances at the .533-mile Bristol bullring.
History has shown that any race around the high-banked, concrete Bristol oval is one of survival. And, thanks to changes to the racetrack since the March event, there are a lot of unanswered questions as to whether Saturday night’s race will be filled with the beating, banging, rooting and gouging around the Bristol track of old, or if it will be like the more recent races there that featured more passing and less wrecking.
Regardless, the Tennessee short track has been one of the best on the circuit for Newman since joining forces with SHR in 2009. In seven previous starts with the No. 39 team at Bristol, Newman has one pole position, an outside pole position, and he’s posted five top-10 finishes with his worst result at the half-mile track being a 16th-place effort in March 2010.
While Newman and top-10 finishes this season have become synonymous with “Free Bloomin’ Onions” at Outback Steakhouse on Mondays, the 11-year Sprint Cup veteran is looking for more than just a top-10 finish this weekend at Bristol. The South Bend, Ind., native wants his first Bloomin’ win at the concrete half-mile oval and his second victory in two starts in Outback Steakhouse colors.
A win would give both Newman and his fans something to celebrate. A Bristol victory would put Newman a giant step closer to a Chase berth, and it would mean free Bloomin’ Onions at Outback Steakhouses every Monday in September for fans everywhere. And that would be a Bloomin’ win for everybody.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts heading into Bristol since changes have been made to the track since the race there in March?
“I just hope they didn’t screw up the racetrack. The racing was different than what we had there in the past because of the tire, to me, not because of the racetrack. I hope the racing is good. I hope they didn’t take the racing away. The beating, banging and crashing is not the racing that I like. That’s what some of the fans enjoy, but that’s not the racing I like. I like being able to run side-by-side. The problem we had with the tire was it just didn’t fall off, so the first five laps of the run were like the last five 120 laps later. You had what you had. Your car didn’t fall off, your balance didn’t change, and everybody was virtually the same speed. We passed and we raced side-by-side, but it made it difficult to see the guy coming from 10th on new tires to pass the guys who were in the top five. It just didn’t happen the way it used to. To me, the tires are the biggest issue when it comes to a place like that.”
Does it concern you that we are going to a different Bristol this time around - that there’s an unknown and that you have no idea what to expect with the changes, especially since you are fighting for a spot in the Chase?
“Everything is unknown until it’s happened. To me, it’s the same with any place. You’ve got as much of a chance of an engine failure at a place like Michigan as you do getting caught up in somebody else’s wreck in Bristol. So, there are risks no matter what. It’s part of the sport. We will go there and practice on Friday and figure out what we need to do and how we need to adjust to be successful in the race.”
Since joining SHR, Bristol has been without a doubt one of the No. 39 team’s best racetracks. Why do you guys seem to like Bristol so much and why do you do so well there?
“We have a good package when we come to Bristol, and I think that’s easy to see by how we have qualified and run there. It’s a track I’ve always liked, and Tony Gibson (crew chief) has a history at Bristol, too. The combination of the two of us working together at places like Bristol – his setup and my driving ability – has really proven to be pretty impressive. We haven’t gotten a win there, yet, but it’s a track where we are very confident. For me, personally, I like the short tracks because I like using the middle pedal (brake). 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 Las Vegas and you’re using very little brake. When you are using a little bit, it’s hard to screw 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. At places like Bristol, Martinsville, Phoenix and Richmond, we’ve been really strong as a team.”
You are in a very tight battle for a spot in the Chase. What are your thoughts on how your team is doing and what you have to do in the next three weeks?
“We have a job to do. It’s tough. I’m battling against a four-time champion (Jeff Gordon) and a guy who has won as many if not more races than anyone else in NASCAR in the past couple of years (Kyle Busch), and a couple of great organizations. We know we are capable. We can get it done, and we’re doing everything we can to do just that. We’ve done a good job of taking days that could have been worse and have turned them into OK days. I can look as far back as the second race at Phoenix, where we got crashed and ended up finishing 21st. We made the best of it. We could have been worse. The guys did a great job of getting the racecar fixed and we were able to salvage a decent finish. We’ve been on a roll the past few weeks with top-10 finishes, and that’s great. But we need a win. It’s time to deliver now – now more so than it will be in the Chase. We have to get ourselves in the Chase.”
Your sponsor Outback has been giving fans a free Bloomin’ Onion on Mondays when you finish in the top-10 in the race the previous Sunday. Have you taken advantage of the free Bloomin’ Onion?
“Absolutely. They know me by name at the Outback in Statesville (N.C.). It’s actually kind of funny because I get notes from fans who are happy when I place in the top-10 because they can go get a free Bloomin’ Onion, and I also have gotten notes from fans telling me I need to be doing better because they are upset that they didn’t get a free Bloomin’ Onion that specific week. It’s really a cool program Outback has put together, and the fans are definitely very aware of it and excited about it. It’s funny because I’ve even heard from some fellow drivers out there who are taking advantage of the free Bloomin’ Onion. To me, that’s really cool. Last time we had Outback on the car, we were able to get them to victory lane, and that’s our goal again this weekend. We would like to go two-for-two with them. I just want to make sure Outback will be giving out a lot of free Bloomin’ Onions.”