KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the home state of the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball national-champion Louisville Cardinals, count Ryan Newman as one driver who hopes to take a cue from the championship team by winning at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
As a native of the basketball-loving Hoosier state to the north, Newman knows the importance of a rebound. When the game is on the line, a key-timed rebound could change the whole complexion of the game and put a team back in contention for the win.
A rebound from his past performances – and a win – is just what Newman and his No. 39 Quicken Loans team need Saturday night in the Kentucky 400 to put himself contention for a coveted spot in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
With 10 races remaining to the Chase, Newman sits 18th in the point standings with 418 points, 155 markers out of first and 35 behind 10th place. To make the Chase, Newman needs to perform more consistently with top-five and top-10 finishes to be able to get into the top-10 in points and lock himself into the Chase. Or, perhaps more importantly, Newman needs to earn a win as positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Newman scored his most recent top-five and his second of the season at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway three weeks ago. However, in the last two weeks, he has finished 18th at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn and 15th at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
Newman knows those finishes aren’t good enough to put his team in the Chase, but he also knows his team is capable of turning its fortunes around and engineering a run for the No. 39 Quicken Loans team to get back to victory lane and in contention for the Chase.
And, just like in a basketball game, all the Quicken Loans team needs is to huddle up, take a deep breath, refocus and get back to the basics – shoot, score, rebound. Or, in racing terms, qualify well, run up front and contend for the race win.
Saturday night’s race at Kentucky could be just the place for the No. 39 squad to begin a surge toward the Chase. Newman has a solid history at the 1.5-mile oval in the Bluegrass State.
In August 2000, in just his third stock-car start, Newman scored his first-ever stock-car pole in the ARCA series race at Kentucky. He dominated that event, leading 83 of 134 laps, and won by almost a full second to score his second consecutive ARCA victory.
In the inaugural Sprint Cup race at the Kentucky oval in 2011, Newman finished a strong fourth. Last season, he qualified fifth and ran solidly in the top-10 when his engine expired, resulting in a disappointing 34th-place finish.
While the game – rather, the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship – isn’t on the line just yet for Newman and his No. 39 team, it’s time to engineer an amazing string of race performances to help put Newman in line for a spot in the Chase. So, for this Hoosier, the goal for Saturday’s Kentucky race is to rebound, shoot, score and “Bring It Home” for Quicken Loans and his fans.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How does Kentucky compare to the other 1.5-mile tracks on the schedule? “Kentucky’s got a lot of character because it’s pretty bumpy. I always look forward to going to Kentucky, not just because I’ve run well there in the past, but because it’s a fun racetrack. It’s not the typical single-groove, 1.5-mile track where the field gets spread out because everyone fights for the same piece of real estate. I think, with the sixth-generation Sprint Cup car this weekend, we’ll see what we’ve seen at some of the other tracks as far as higher speeds and new track records. So, I’m looking forward to getting back to Kentucky this weekend.”
What are your thoughts on going to Kentucky? “I look forward to going to Kentucky. I was one of the first drivers to win at Kentucky Speedway back in the ARCA series when they opened the place up in 2000. I think it was actually the track’s third race at that point, or something like that. I started on the pole, led a lot of laps and ended up winning the race, which was a pretty big feather in our cap at that point in time. It was my third start for Penske Racing in the ARCA series and I ended up getting my first pole and my second win. So it was a pretty big deal for me and that team at that point in time. Then, going back to Kentucky for the first time with the Sprint Cup Series in 2011 was pretty cool for me. And for us to have such a good run there made it even better.”
You had a top-five finish at Kentucky in your first outing back in 2011, and you had a strong run going last year before losing an engine. Talk about those two races. “We really struggled at Kentucky during the inaugural race. We got a lap down and, thanks to some good adjustments and some strategy, we finally got it back. I guess you could say we made the best of a good situation. And then, on the last restart, I did what I had to do – kept it clean and ended up gaining a lot of spots in the final two laps. In the end, we proved we had a decent racecar, just took forever for us to get there. Last year, we qualified fifth and had a good night going – I wouldn’t say a great night, but a good night. But, something blew up and, when it did, it sent me into the wall and tore the racecar up. We came into that race in a very similar position in that we needed to have a good run to regain some momentum. We didn’t get the finish, but it was a good confidence-booster for us. Hopefully, we can apply some of what we’ve learned in the past and apply it to this weekend.”