KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – We’re putting the band back together, but it won’t be going to Bob’s Country Bunker, or even the Palace Hotel Ballroom. Instead, it’ll be making its encore appearance in Martinsville, Va.
That’s where the driver-crew chief duo of Ryan Newman and Matt Borland will be reunited for the first time since the end of the 2006 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
When the No. 39 Quicken Loans team hits town for Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the team will have a different look, despite being the most recent Sprint Cup winners at the .526-mile oval.
A crew swap will go into effect this weekend in preparation for the 2013 season, when Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will field three Sprint Cup teams full-time. As such, Newman, spotter Jimmy Kitchens, hauler driver Rick Hodges and the No. 39’s pit crew are the only remaining members from the winning combination that delivered Newman to victory lane in April at the paperclip-shaped bullring.
The mechanics, engineers and the entire road crew for the Quicken Loans team have changed. But amidst all this change, one very familiar face will be calling the shots for Newman. For the first time in five-plus seasons, Borland will climb atop the pit box as Newman’s crew chief.
Reuniting with Newman will be like a homecoming for Borland, and with Quicken Loans, the nation’s largest online retail mortgage lender, adorning the No. 39 Chevy at Martinsville, the “coming home” theme is even more appropriate.
When Newman joined Penske Racing as a stock-car newbie in 2000, Borland was tabbed to oversee Newman’s race team and his development. They ran four ARCA races in preparation for Sprint Cup, and the duo produced immediately, earning three wins and two pole positions.
The following season, Borland again led Newman’s team as it ran a multi-tiered schedule in ARCA, the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup.
Newman competed in two ARCA races, 15 Nationwide Series races and seven Sprint Cup races. He won the season-opening ARCA event at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, then captured the pole at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., in his only other ARCA start. Newman won his first Nationwide Series race in August at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn and also won six Nationwide Series poles. Newman scored his first career Sprint Cup pole at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in May in just his third Sprint Cup start, while also scoring two top-five finishes, including a second-place effort at Kansas.
In 2002, Newman and Borland entered Sprint Cup full-time. NASCAR observers were expecting big things from the driver-crew chief pairing, and the two did not disappoint.
In their five full seasons together from 2002 to 2006, the Newman-Borland combination produced 12 victories, 37 poles, 52 top-five finishes and 83 top-10s. It also finished in the top-10 in the point standings in each of its first four seasons of full-time competition.
During their tenure, this unique pairing of engineering majors – Newman a graduate of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and Borland a graduate of the General Motors Institute of Technology in Flint, Mich. – was a force to be reckoned with on the racetrack.
Now, the tandem is teaming up once again beginning this weekend at Martinsville where, in 10 races together, Newman and Borland have combined for four top-fives, five top-10s and two pole positions.
Newman added to his owns stats at Martinsville back in April when he stole a victory. He was in the right place at the right time during NASCAR’s version of “overtime” when he took advantage of a late-race skirmish for the lead during a green-white-checkered finish. In fifth-place for the race’s final restart, Newman pounced when the drivers in front of him collided in turn one. Their misfortune was Newman’s fortune, as Newman drove through the chaos and into the lead, taking the checkered flag and the famed grandfather clock that comes with winning at the Virginia short track.
While the team is different this weekend, the goal remains the same. Newman wants to finish the season 13th in points – the highest of any driver outside the Chase for the NASAR Sprint Cup. To do that, he knows he has to get solid finishes and, ideally, wins. More than that, though, as Borland enters the picture with four races remaining in the 2012 season, Newman and his new No. 39 Quicken Loans team are getting a jump on next season.
With the band back together, they’ll begin perfecting their harmony this weekend at Martinsville.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about joining forces with Matt Borland as your crew chief beginning this weekend. You and Matt had a lot of success together early in your career. What are your goals now? “A lot of things fell into place. From my perspective, it wasn’t something I had thought of. The people at Stewart-Haas brought it to me and said, ‘What about this?’ And I said, ‘Honestly, I had never really thought of that.’ So, we talked about it, and then we talked about it some more. Matt actually came up to my farm and we square-bailed some hay and hung out, and we just kind of talked about what the possibilities were going to be. And here we are, now. We’re making a change this weekend at Martinsville and the rest of the season to get ready for 2013 with Borland as the crew chief for the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet. The goal is to make everybody do well and run well and have fun. Obviously, I have a good rapport with him both personally and professionally. We’re going to do the last four races together this year to get ready for the 2013 season together. I really look forward to being reunited on a crew-chief-to-driver level. Hopefully, we can rekindle some of the successes we had back when I got started winning poles and races.”
Talk about your relationship with Matt and your thoughts on him getting back on the box as a crew chief. “Matt was Best Man when I married Krissie, so he’s obviously someone who has been very important to me as a friend. And then we also have this professional relationship, too. I guess part of me was surprised, but another part of me knows that when you have success someplace, you want to continue to do it. We have a different chemistry now. We both have a different makeup from the family standpoint. In the end, we’re back together and we are back together for a reason. We know we can get the job done. The cars are different, the tires are different, but physics, aerodynamics and grip are all still the same. So we will do our best to be successful. Although Matt hasn’t been a crew chief for awhile now, he is still very in touch with every part and every aspect of the racecar. He’s done a lot of SHR’s troubleshooting and a lot of our development work. He understands a lot about the racecar. Obviously, he’s not been here each and every week to see the changes in the tracks. He’s missed some things, but he’s still very involved. When we first started, we won our first pole in the third race, and a top-five in our fourth race, so I’m pretty sure we can catch up pretty quickly.”
This weekend, you come to Martinsville as the most recent winner at the racetrack. Talk about what that victory meant to you. “There was a huge sense of relief when I saw that checkered flag, but the emotion was, man, we did it. I’ve tried so many times there, and I enjoy short-track racing. I enjoy Martinsville, and I didn’t used to. So it made it more sweet for me than maybe another racetrack. I joked that I had a spot saved for that Grandfather Clock since we built our house. I was just so happy because I really wanted to win at Martinsville. It was really kind of a crazy day but, no doubt, an impressive day for us. I kind of took us out of the game, and we ended up going a lap down because of my speeding penalty, but nobody gave up. The guys did an awesome job in giving us the car to make the changes. We were not a dominant racecar, but we put ourselves in contention. In the end, the way the strategy and everything worked out, coming in for two tires and Clint (Bowyer) kind of clearing out turn one for us, we were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. We’ve been in that position there and been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s nice to be able to at least balance it out and get to victory lane.”
From a driver’s point of view, what does it take to be successful at Martinsville? What do you go through in the car and what is your thought process? “Martinsville is very much a finesse racetrack – from a braking standpoint, but also the acceleration part of it, too. You can really chew your tires up on the concrete before you get to the asphalt getting back to the gas, and you have to get back to the gas, but how you do it can make a really big difference in how good your car is for a whole fuel run. A fuel run there is roughly 110 to 120 laps, and you only get three or four times to do that. Tires are important but, if the race goes green for a long time, you can go a lap down by not managing your racecar. For me, I’m thinking about who’s around me, what to expect at the start of the race, how good the car is, what we need to work on, those kind of things. Sometimes your competition is more you than anybody else.”
MATT BORLAND, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts about returning to the Sprint Cup Series as a crew chief? “I was at a point before that I needed a break, for sure. I wanted to do some different things in life and at work. With Stewart-Haas going to three teams for the first time next year, this is a situation where it’s the right thing for the company. It made sense for the company and for me at this point in my life and for Ryan. I can honestly say that I didn’t think I would be a crew chief again. I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the group that I worked with, but I thought that chapter of my life was closed. But it’s one of those situations where it made sense at this point for the company to do that. We’ve got a lot of things on our plate for next year, and we’re looking forward to getting everything for that started this weekend.”
What are your thoughts on Martinsville being your first race back on the pit box? “Martinsville has always been a challenge, but it’s a track I really like and I know it’s a track Ryan really likes. We’ve had the good fortune at SHR to run well as a company at Martinsville, here lately. Tony (Stewart) won there last fall and Ryan won there this past spring, so it’s a good track to go to from that point of view.”
How are you and Newman different now? “A lot of ways. It’s been six years, now. Both of us have kids, now. We’ve both gotten older. At that time, we were both brand new to Cup racing. Obviously, we were very anxious to get a lot of things done and we made a lot of mistakes along the way. I think both of us have learned a lot since then, and we’ve both worked with a lot of different people. I think that helps give us both a broader perspective on what’s going on. When you first get started, everything is in the immediate now. Hopefully, we both bring a lot more patience to the table and also more experience to draw from.”