NASCAR Media Conference
March 3, 2010
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. Today's guest is Ryan Newman. Going into Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Kobalt Tools 500, Ryan takes an all-time pole record at AMS of seven. Tied all time with Buddy Baker for that record.
Ryan, thanks for joining us. Off to a little bit of a slow start in terms of the points. You're coming in 32nd in the standings. Last year at this time you were 33rd. As people well remember, you went on to make the Chase and have a great season. Do you feel pretty confident about a similar sort of comeback this season?
RYAN NEWMAN: I'd like to think so. I mean, I think it's real early to be talking about a comeback. Based on the numbers I guess you could call it that.
Honestly, I think you're right, we've got ourselves in a hole. I wouldn't call it a comeback, but we've got some work to do to get ourselves in position. We've got a long time before that issue becomes pressing.
So I feel confident that we've made some big gains with our racecars this year. Vegas, we actually were off a little bit. But California we had a really fast racecar and lost an engine. Daytona we were working our way up through the pack and got crashed. I feel like we've been more competitive in general. In saying that, we've still got more work to do. We're not sitting here having won two of the last three races like Jimmie Johnson has.
HERB BRANHAM: We've been trying to get a question from our Twitter account from our race fans out there. We have one from Christina. She wants to know: You're a Daytona 500 winner, so what is the next huge goal for your career?
RYAN NEWMAN: Championship is the ultimate. If you're looking at a race win, the Brickyard would be really special to me. I'd say one step even more special would be the Southern 500. That to me has a lot of history and a lot of meaning behind it. That race itself would be the biggest race along with maybe the Coca-Cola 600 that I would like to win. But the championship is the ultimate goal.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you. We'll go to the media for questions for our guest Ryan Newman.
Q. It seems like any more in Sprint Cup Series what rivalries we do see seem to be between teammates than between somebody with another team. Is there something about racing under the same roof as some other driver that makes you want to beat them worse than somebody else?
RYAN NEWMAN: I think it has the biggest potential for conflict of all things we do in NASCAR, any teammate is a competitor. That sense of pressure I guess, especially with the extra hype now with the Chase and everything else, it makes it a higher level of potential for that conflict on the racetrack.
You know, I understand what you're saying. But I think that's the biggest reason why. You got the same equipment. You got the same a lot of things. The biggest difference is your results. That creates a little internal rivalry at times.
Q. In what ways has the success of the 48 team challenged you and your team to be better in the last couple years with your experience in Cup? How has their success impacted you in a way that forces you to get better?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, the real key time of their success has been in the Chase. They've been a successful team and obviously a successful organization the last several years. But what they do in the Chase is what makes everybody scratch their head, it seems.
I can't say there's one thing that we try to do to be better than them. But I will say that we try to do everything to be better than everybody else. I wouldn't say it's pit stops or what we try to do at a certain racetrack to be different or strategy or anything else. I think it's collectively as a group and organization that we try to be better than everybody else. Therefore, that would hopefully make us better than the 48. At Stewart-Haas, we're still in the process of building that.
Q. That said, is it difficult not to want to go reinvent the wheel? You say you're trying to be better than everybody, so that takes care of the 48. When you look at what the 48 has done, how challenging is it to say this used to work but it's not getting us to the level we want, we need to go in the opposite direction? How much of a danger is that or is that the approach that sometimes you have to be daring enough to take?
RYAN NEWMAN: I think you kind of asked the question in two different formats because you asked if I wanted to reinvent the wheel, then you also said if I wanted to go the opposite direction. That's two different things. Reinventing the wheel means you're reworking what's already there. If you're working that, you're going to take it to the next level. I wouldn't say you're going in the opposite direction.
I think ultimately you're trying to do what they are doing, and that is beating everybody else. What your weakness is as a team or organization is what you need to focus on and not take focus away from another thing. That sounds somewhat contradicting, but that's the way it is.
Every department has a department head and those department heads are responsible for their own focus. That, therefore, defines the organization's focus.
For me personally it's to go out there and just do my best job that I possibly can. We've obviously seen Jimmie do that, especially in the Chase. There's no reinventing the wheel, going in opposite directions. It's a matter of what I just always have said, is getting the job done. That to me is just doing it better than everybody else, that being the job.
Q. Is Atlanta the kind of place you look forward to as you dig your way out of the early hole you're in?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I mean, I look forward to every race. I wouldn't say Atlanta is any different. I've always enjoyed Atlanta on Fridays just 'cause of my record in the cars that I've been given at those types of racetracks, especially there.
But, yeah, I wouldn't say that I think of Atlanta as a place that we are going to rebound or we can rebound. I think every racetrack or every day is a new opportunity. It's up to our team to go out there and make that happen.
Q. You had been quoted as saying Atlanta is bumpy enough that those bumps can spit you right out. Getting into turn one in the middle of three and four, you have to catch it right, it's like surfing or wakeboarding. Since you're so fast at qualifying in Atlanta, can you describe to the fans what it feels like to do that inside the car?
RYAN NEWMAN: It's really difficult from a fan's perspective to see the bumps we feel. Even when you're playing on a video game, Atlanta is a smooth surface, there's not any bumps there. You can't get that sensation or feeling. When you're running 200 plus miles an hour going into a corner and you hit a bump that makes the car jump three or four inches, that's a big bump. That's big feedback, I guess is what we call it.
You know, just to have those inconsistencies at that speed is not necessarily typical. Charlotte is super smooth. Texas is smoother than it ever has been. Places like Vegas, even though they have little bumps, they're not near as big as some of the bumps at Atlanta.
I equate it to water. When the water gets choppy, things get that much more difficult, whether you're a wakeborder or a skier or what. So it's just a way to relate to the fans what we as drivers go through to get that ultimate quick lap or each and every lap to make it as fast as we can.
Q. Have you ever been surfing or wakeboarding? How good are you at that?
RYAN NEWMAN: I'm not at all. I went skiing when I was a kid. That didn't last too long. I didn't think the water was going to hurt that bad when I hit it. That was enough for me. I do a little jet-skiing once in a while, but that's it for me. If I'm on the water, I got a fishing rod in my hand.
Q. There's a theory that once the spoiler gets put on the car that when a car spins, it decelerates more with a spoiler than with a wing, and that would keep the cars on the ground. Does that make sense to you? Have you looked at any numbers on that?
RYAN NEWMAN: I don't know. I mean, I think there could be. There may be some true reasoning for the speculation of that just from a drag perspective. I have not seen any numbers aero-wise in reference to that, when the car is backwards. So I couldn't say.
I think from an aerodynamic standpoint, this is purely my opinion, that a spoiler would probably create less lift than a wing that is made to create downforce going in the opposite direction.
So if that wing is to create downforce going forward, it's going to create a percentage of lift going the other way. I think that percentage of lift is greater than the percentage of lift than the spoiler creates going backwards.
Q. As far as your testing of the spoiler, have you done any on-track testing or relied all on simulation?
RYAN NEWMAN: We haven't done with the 39 team any testing in reference to the spoiler. We have had cars in the wind tunnel, knowing what the rules are potentially going to be, trying to do our homework in respect to that. The 14 has tested it at Texas. We're just waiting our time. Charlotte will be -- I think actually Talladega will be our first test, even though it's supposed to be a different spoiler.
Q. Career start number 300 will be coming up this weekend. As milestones go, where does that stack up in your book?
RYAN NEWMAN: I don't know. I mean, what's a milestone look like? Is it granite or quartz?
Q. Maybe it pays some money.
RYAN NEWMAN: Honestly to me it's just another number. It's cool if you think about it to have 300 straight. From my standpoint to do something that I've always loved to do, that's driving NASCAR Sprint Cup cars. It's a number from my mental standpoint. But physically it's nice to be able to do what I want to do for such a long time, and obviously have plans to do it even longer.
Just another number. That's my short answer (laughter).
Q. I also know in past years when you've come to Atlanta, you've gone fishing with buddies in Georgia. Is that on the agenda? Is that something you try to do, go fishing or hunting?
RYAN NEWMAN: The hunting, as we call it, the place I like to go, no longer exists. I do have some other places I like to go. Usually it's dependent on the weather, what's going on that day, what my schedule looks like. We'll see.
But it really is a prime time, with the exception of the deep freeze we've been in the Southeast this year, it is a prime time to go fishing.
Q. You enter Atlanta in a similar position to last year. When you look at the way you were able to rebound last year, is there anything that you harken back to that you find yourself missing in this position going forward?
RYAN NEWMAN: From our standpoint, we rebounded pretty quick last year. I don't know when we were first inside the top 12 after being 33rd three races in. I know there's plenty of potential and there's a lot of season left. The law of averages works out for everybody except for Jimmie Johnson.
You know, I think we'll have our opportunities. But I think if you look at 2009, when we rebounded, we didn't keep that performance going. We had I think four or five top fives in a row, then we fell off. We maintained an 8th- to 10th-place position for the next 10 races or so, which was not ideal.
We left ourselves a lot of room to get better, which is a good thing, even though we made the Chase. I think if we can improve upon last year, then talking about 33rd at this time won't be an issue, you know, for the rest of the season.
Q. What are your projections for Purdue with Robbie Hummel out?
RYAN NEWMAN: I don't know. I haven't paid attention to any of it. I couldn't tell you what's going on in the world of basketball.
Q. Atlanta, this weekend you're going to possibly set a pole record with the Buddy Baker situation and tiebreak that. Where does that fit in your career? How much do you actually place emphasis on your career on poles or is this something you naturally do well?
RYAN NEWMAN: I think Buddy Baker is one of the 50 greatest NASCAR drivers in the history of our sport. If there was ever a record I could beat him or tie him in, that would be a big reward mentally for me.
You know, having the opportunity this week with a car that we ran in California actually, which I feel is a very good car, to go there and have the opportunity to break that record, or to stand alone in that record is pretty cool.
If I live out the rest of my career tied with Buddy Baker, I'm still fine with that. But obviously I'd like to beat it, too.
Q. I think fans' expectations of the spoiler coming are pretty darn high. Do you think it's actually going to change the racing all that much?
RYAN NEWMAN: I believe it will. I think the biggest thing that we're going to see with this spoiler, this is speculation from my standpoint, is the way the spoiler is designed, there's going to be a lot more surface area of that spoiler on the quarter panels. I think the side drafting on the straightaway is going to be even bigger than it was with the old style car. I don't think we have but 50% of that side drafting down the straightaway on the current car with the wing on it.
I think the fans will see more racing, even on the straightaways, if that makes sense. You'll see more side-by-side, back and forth, nose-to-head, with the competitor down the straightaways, which I think will make places like Michigan and California, some of the tracks that are bigger, notorious for being a little boring through the middle of the race more exciting throughout the entire race.
Q. How big of a curve ball is this, getting a change like this mid-season or partial season?
RYAN NEWMAN: I mean, it's not that huge, I don't think. I think that NASCAR has been working on the aero balance part of it so the cars will drive similar. We don't want to put Goodyear in a position where the cars are driving different where we're having a tire situation after working so hard to get back to a good, safe, consistent tire. I think that it's not gonna be night and day. There might be a couple clouds in the sky, but we'll be fine.
Q. Looking ahead a little bit to Darlington, what are the characteristics of that track that give drivers such headaches?
RYAN NEWMAN: It's the only racetrack that we go to in the entire - including road courses - where you accelerate into the turn. You let off on the straightaway going into turn one, then you accelerate up the hill. It's unique all to its own at Darlington to have that characteristic.
You know, that stands out. You know, it used to be very unique. It was in a small group with Rockingham, when we had Rockingham, because the asphalt was similar, the tire was exact. You had to race the racetrack. I think it's changed a little bit. You have to race the racetrack at Darlington still only because it's so narrow, not necessarily because the grip changes so much.
Used to be easy when you came out behind somebody that came out on fresh tires to try to chase or run them down or at least keep up with them and crash your car. I don't think you have that anymore because of the tire and the asphalt combination we have there.
Q. The words and phrases that perhaps invoke fear in drivers, particularly young drivers, where do you think the term 'Darlington stripe' falls as far as that category goes?
RYAN NEWMAN: Nowhere for me personally. It's a tough one to answer. I think some people and drivers are entirely intimidated going to that racetrack. Some drivers absolutely hate it. But it's one of my favorites if not my favorite. I always said it was my favorite when it was the old asphalt. I don't even consider it, to answer your question.
Q. As an engineer, we'd expect you to be somewhat of an analytical driver. Jimmie Johnson writes down notes after every race. Do you think analytical drivers like Jimmie is the kind of driver who can end up surpassing the 48 team and a jump-in-the-car type of driver?
RYAN NEWMAN: That's a good question. I don't know how exactly to answer that. I think a driver has to be very well-rounded. It doesn't have to be an engineer. Doesn't have to be, you know, a perfect driver. He has to be well-rounded with respect to all visibilities from the physical, mental and emotional standpoint to drive that racecar to the highest capabilities possible.
The other part of that is it's way beyond the driver. It's part of the team. If you look at what Kevin Harvick has done this year with the same organization, but obviously with faster racecars, if he was taking notes, just started taking notes this year, you could call him -- you could blame his excellence this year in taking notes.
But I think everybody is different. Some people have to take notes. Some people don't. Some people can remember phone numbers, some people can't. Some people can't put a name with a face. Everybody's different is my point. You know, I guess we're still trying to find collectively as a group that equation to beat Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the 48 team.
Q. Do you think the naturally articulate people like yourself have the ability to give better details to a crew chief and maybe that's a helpful trait to have?
RYAN NEWMAN: I think, absolutely. The more information you can give to a crew chief, the better, from a feedback standpoint to make the racecar better or make the improvements or the correct adjustments.
I do my best. I know everybody tries to do their best. It's how successful you are, who you're working with, the team that you have behind you that makes you successful. You know, they are the benchmark.
Q. You mentioned earlier about the side drafting with the spoiler. What kind of a skill is that for a driver to learn that side drafting? Is this something like a racing 101 type of thing or is this kind of using a postgraduate course? What are the challenges in understanding that or is that an easy thing to pick up?
RYAN NEWMAN: It's a pretty easy thing to pick up. It's a pretty easy thing to do physically. The hardest part of it is, you know, it's not the in-line difference in speed as much as it is the lateral difference in speed. If you get a car you're trying to get as close as you can with your right front fender to his left rear quarter panel, he moves left or right a little bit, you're putting both of yourselves in jeopardy. That's the toughest part of side drafting, in my opinion. You know, just getting that run or having somebody help push you a little bit. That's not so big a deal as it is physically putting your right front fender, which is the most demanding fender I would say in respect to aerodynamics, right vulnerable to somebody else's left rear quarter panel.
We don't see it as much as we used to because that side drafting isn't as important. We used to see guys running into each other in the straightaways trying to slow somebody else down so they didn't get past them as quick.
Q. So it's as much about understanding who the driver is that you're coming up on and understanding their tendencies as much as really than really the whole aspect of side drafting?
RYAN NEWMAN: Correct, yeah. It's more important to know who you're dealing with and who you're working with or who's working against you than it is to actually know the maneuver itself.
Q. You have the seven Atlanta poles, which ties the record. You have a Truck win at Atlanta. The Cup win hasn't happened. What might be the one critical factor that has eluded you at Atlanta?
RYAN NEWMAN: I've had winning racecars halfway through the race before and had tires go out of balance and power steering go out, things like that. I've been in position; just haven't been able to follow through.
You know, it's all about the entire package, just like it is for everybody else on any given weekend. I've always says it's much easier to go out there and be the quickest car on one lap than it is to be the best car on average over 500 miles. The longer you're doing something, the harder it is to maintain that level of excellence.
I've been very successful there in qualifying, fortunately. I've had some unsuccessful moments in racing. So, you know, you just take it with what you can. It's all about hard work and effort.
Q. You're racing for the Wildlife Project has been really building up. You helped the Michigan Waterloo Recreation Area with some work. I know you love fishing. When I bring up the idea how much you helped Michigan, I'm thinking, have you ever gone ice fishing?
RYAN NEWMAN: Yeah, actually just this past year out -- we were snowmobiling with some friends out in Utah. They had a pond up there. We went ice fishing for a little bit and caught a few trout. That was a lot of fun.
But actually that was the second time in my life I went ice fishing. First time was with my grandfather when I was five or six years old. I remember we didn't catch anything all morning. Bored our own holes. Decided to get some lunch at 11:30 or 12:00 when it was cold as could be. Came back. We left the lines in the water. I think one of us or both the us caught one without even being there. We caught fish the rest of the afternoon. That was a lot of fun. That was my first experience. I guess about 25 years later I got my second experience.
Q. I asked that question to Elliott Sadler. He said, You'd never catch me driving my truck out on a lake.
RYAN NEWMAN: That would be driving a truck on a lake, not ice fishing.
Q. Ryan, we were talking about a follow-up on the qualifying. How much do you feel the speed if you're so used to it? You're so good there. How much do you feel that speed or are you conditioned to it?
RYAN NEWMAN: I don't think you necessarily feel the speed as much as you actually know the input you've given the racecar to make it go faster. I've always said, you know, from 140 miles an hour on up, I don't think that you actually feel speed until something happens to you or you hit something. Case in point, flying an airplane. Nobody knows when they're on a commercial flight they're doing over 500 miles an hour until you hit turbulence, then that turbulence is pretty noticeable.
When you're running 200 miles an hour at Atlanta, I don't think you necessarily feel that actual extra one or two or sometimes three miles an hour. What you feel is the input you give in the car to make it go faster, getting back to the throttle a little sooner, getting into the corner a little bit harder, carrying a little more mid-corner speed. Those are the things that you feel that actually make you feel what you've done to pick up speed over a given mile-and-a-half.
Q. As speeds get faster and faster, are you cognizant of the fact that you actually have to do so much more to get to that point on the qualifying?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, that's the thing. It's really not that much more. It's just a little bit here and there. It's not like you're closing your eyes and holding on for an extra three seconds. I mean, it's a matter of 10, 15 feet max that makes the biggest differences. That 10, 15 feet at 200 miles an hour is literally a millisecond. It's just a matter of picking your game up a little bit everywhere to be able to get the grip out of it and match that grip to your racecar to get everything you can for a given lap.
Q. Thanks a million.
RYAN NEWMAN: You're welcome, times a billion (laughter).
HERB BRANHAM: Ryan, thanks very much for joining us today. Best of luck at Atlanta and the rest of the way.
RYAN NEWMAN: Thanks, everybody.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all the media participating today. As always, we appreciate the coverage.
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