KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – L.G. Alexander, the first President of WIX Filtration Products, once said, “A look back is helpful – if it helps us look ahead.”
Looking back on his stats at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., certainly has Ryan Newman looking ahead to Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
A pole in his very first Sprint Cup start at the 2-mile oval. Four top-five finishes. Seven top-10s, of which the three most recent have come in consecutive fashion. Two of those were back-to-back finishes of fifth in 2010 and 2011.
While the 35-year-old driver has yet to win at Auto Club Speedway, Newman’s got confidence – and momentum – on his side this weekend. He’ll need both as he’ll look to continue his recent trend of performances at the Southern California oval in order to regain some of the ground he and his No. 39 team lost in the championship battle at two of the opening four races this season.
It’s a challenge the WIX Filters team is enthusiastic about tackling. Despite incidents at Phoenix International Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway that saw them eliminated from competition prematurely, Newman & Co. have kept their heads high and know that, just because they’re down, it certainly doesn’t mean they’re out. After all, looking back, the No. 39 team has had slow starts to the season before and, each time, they’ve responded in style by contending for a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Heading West fresh off a seventh-place finish at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway last weekend, where he rallied from his starting position of 31st, the driver of the WIX Filters Chevrolet is looking forward to this weekend’s 400-miler, and he’s optimistic about his chances at another strong finish.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are you expecting to see at Auto Club Speedway this weekend? “I think these new cars are going to be super-fast. I haven’t checked the weather, yet, but that can certainly have an impact on speed as it is an extremely temperature-sensitive racetrack. If it’s cool, we’re really going to be going fast. These new racecars, with the way they are, I think they’re going to be really fast, it’s as simple as that. The track is relatively bumpy, so I think you’ll see the guys who ran well at Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago have another good run this weekend. I feel like we’ve learned some things since that race that we can apply to this weekend, and I think we’ll be better than we were just a couple of weeks ago. Myself and Tony (Stewart) have both run well there over the years, so, we’ll see. I’m looking forward to it. I used to not like going out there very much, but now I really enjoy it because it’s one of the tracks with older pavement.”
With the older pavement, do you feel that the quality of racing has improved? “Absolutely. The track has widened out, you can use so much of it now. It gives you the opportunity, especially with the downforce we’re making with this new car, to get off-line, make some passes and be a little more aggressive. It makes restarts a lot more exciting, too. There’s a lot of straightaway, and there’s not much excitement there, but when the cars get bunched up, you see them fan out four, five or six wide, sometimes.”
This is a big weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing because Auto Club Speedway is a “home track,” of sorts, for team co-owner Gene Haas as his company, Haas Automation, is based in nearby Oxnard, Calif. Talk about the importance of this race for you and the team. “Everybody wants to be the best when they are racing in their backyard. Just think about how everybody wants to win at Charlotte. You want bragging rights. You want to be top dog on your home turf. Fontana isn’t my home track, but it is a very important race to our co-owner and our sponsor, Haas Automation. Haas Automation has been involved in NASCAR for many years. Tony (Stewart) was able to win twice at Fontana the last three years, and it would be cool if we could win one for Gene at his home track, too. It’s cool that a guy from Indiana will have so much support at Fontana.”
From a driver’s perspective, where does Auto Club Speedway rank in degree of difficulty and from the “fun” perspective? “It is the most difficult, I think, in just pure engine performance – what you have to have in an engine package. It is extremely important if you’re going to be successful. Being able to get off the corners is one part of it, but it’s really got to run from the start-finish line, as well, because there is so much straightaway. You get a big difference in RPM there that you don’t at other racetracks. Even at a place like Michigan, you carry just a little bit more corner speed and don’t have to worry about the acceleration as much. At the same time, even though the RPM band is so far down, we’ll have to work on our forward bite and our forward drive a good bit there – more so than other racetracks. Those are the things we focus on there. But the most fun part of this racetrack now is its age and the fact we can widen out the corners and get up in the gray. It really hooks the car up. Those are the things from a performance standpoint we will be working on and keeping an eye on.”