The Racing Capital
of the World
June 12, 2013 | By Bruce Martin
There are many top drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series who are “Back Home Again in Indiana” when they arrive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Kroger Super Weekend at the Brickyard. Drivers such as four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon of Pittsboro, Ind., and two-time Brickyard winner Tony Stewart of Columbus, Ind. – drivers who know what it takes to win the Cup title and the NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
And then there is Ryan Newman of South Bend.
Purdue University graduate Newman honed his racing skill in the United States Auto Club (USAC) driving Midgets, Sprint Cars and Silver Crown cars just like Gordon and Stewart. But to date, he never has won the Cup championship or the Brickyard 400 at what many consider his “home track.”
But in Newman’s mind, he has another “home track,” which is next on the schedule – the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway. When Newman was growing up in South Bend, MIS was just a few hours east on U.S. 12 and before 1994 was the closest track to Indiana that hosted NASCAR.
Newman took an immediate liking to the D-shaped oval in Brooklyn, Mich. He has won two races at MIS and also has recorded three top-10 finishes in his last four starts at the track.
This year Newman has two top-fives and seven top-10 finishes. He is coming off a season-tying best finish of fifth place last Sunday at Pocono International Raceway entering the Quicken Loans 400 this Sunday at Michigan.
He hopes that finish will spur him to greater things, such as making “The Chase for the Championship” where he can contend for his first Cup championship. That finish also may provide some steam heading into the 20th Running of the Crown Royal Presents the “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com on July 28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Aside from Dover, we have had some good runs in the last four races,” Newman said. “Carrying some of that momentum, as well as obviously Tony Stewart (his team owner and teammate) had a good weekend in Dover, we are just keeping the ball rolling.
“I think that there's some things that we learned at our Pocono test that we can absolutely carry over from the Pocono race into Indianapolis going back to Pocono, and as well, I think at places like Michigan that are smooth and have similar asphalt and are really fast, as well. So hopefully the things that we've learned will help carry us for the most part through some of those things. It's all about having a fast race car, especially when you go into a big weekend like we have with the Quicken Loans 400 being the sponsor of the race, as well as my race car.
“So there is pressure from the outside, but from my side, I’m just doing my job and staying focused and hitting my marks.”
The NASCAR race at Michigan holds the traditional Father’s Day date on the calendar, which is important to Newman because without his father, Greg, he never would have made it in racing. Greg Newman ran an auto parts business just across the state line from South Bend in Niles, Mich. He got Ryan interested in racing at an early age, and the Newmans continue to form a close family.
“Whether it's Father's Day or not, it's special to have that relationship with my dad, and at the same time, to have that relationship with my daughters, and I guess maybe be able to share it to them a little bit more especially on Father's Day,” Newman said. “I think the most memorable, and I think there's two memorable Father's Days, in my mind, with respect to my father, and that was the midget race I won in Salem, Indiana, and the Cup race I won Father's Day weekend in Michigan. I told him before I got in the race car, I said, ‘This is the only thing I'm going to try to get you is this victory and there's no guarantee to and, but know that I'm trying and that's enough for my dad,’ because he's a racer.
“To have a person who is not just my father, but my friend and somebody who has taught me a large percentage of everything that I've known, and at the same time, given me the attitude and the personality that I have, that, whether you like it or not, it's who I am, and we all go on. So I look forward to Father's Day weekend now for two reasons, because I still try to win each and every race for my dad, especially Father's Day weekend, but obviously for my two girls, as well.”
In racing, speed is important and Newman understands that. What makes a fast car isn’t always horsepower; it’s also superior handling. The car that can go through the turns the best will have an edge in the speed department. That is why Newman – an engineering graduate of Purdue – is already thinking ahead to the Brickyard even though it is a four-cornered, flat rectangle compared to the D-shaped Michigan International Speedway.
“I thought we personally did have the top-end speed and the raw performance,” Newman said of last Sunday’s Pocono race. “What we didn't have was ideal layout of the ending of the race; as far as us being shorter on fuel than everybody else was. You know we played it safe there for a while. And when Jimmie Johnson chased me down, he chased me down because I was letting him chase me down. I'm not saying he wouldn't have passed me, but I let him dictate the pace after he got by me instead of me dictating the pace in front of him and running hard.
“So I think that we were the most competitive that we've been in quite a while, at least on the 39 side at an intermediate racetrack since probably California. And I feel that we can carry that into Michigan and a few other places, like Indianapolis, as well.
“But it did feel good to be back up front. I even texted Jimmie after the race and said, ‘Congratulations, it was good running with you again.’ That's just truly how I feel. I feel I'm fully capable as a driver, and we just are working on honing in on the package that we need.”
“Once we stayed out there and got the track position, I could see him in front of me before the yellow came out to lap him. That's how big of a difference it made to be up front and have some clean air and being able to run your own race instead of being stuck behind a car that you know your faster than, it's just difficult to pass.”
Despite his lack of results until recently, Newman remains supremely confident in his ability. That’s why he knows what he learns in June will not only help him at Indianapolis in July but also in the “Race to the Chase” that ends with the 26th contest of the year on Sept. 7 at Richmond International Raceway.
He knows how to win and is confident he will get back to Victory Lane soon. That is one reason why he is excited about heading to Michigan.
“I think 99.9 percent of it is just the driver's attitude, the team's attitude, everybody,” he said. “It's kind of like I've said before: When you go to a place like Michigan, when you know you've won there, it gives you the confidence to know that you can do it again. When you haven't won there, you're trying to do it for the first time and it's more like, ‘Well, how do I do this?’ and when you come off of a good weekend, you have some … you have some backbone to your notebook to understand that we know what we are doing with the race car.
“We know what we are doing strategy-wise, and we know what we're doing with the tire pressures and everything else to make it make sense so that you can have good finishes. And that I think is the momentum more from an emotional and mental state than it is anything else.”