NASCAR Media Conference
January 13, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all the media joining us today on today's NASCAR video teleconference. Very special teleconference, very special guest, defending Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman, driver this year of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet, new team, Stewart-Haas Racing.
Ryan, coming into Daytona, what's it feel like to be able to roll into the Speedway and be called the defending Daytona 500 winner?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I wish the year hadn't passed already almost because it was pretty cool. I'm ready to defend it but I'm not sure I want to give up the title because I've got a 1 in 43 chance of doing that. It was a great win last year, for myself, for Penske Racing. All the things that happened to us that night, just a dream come true, and I really look forward to coming back and defending my title with a different team, with the Stewart-Haas team and U.S. Army Chevrolet and Tony Stewart, just trying to put on another show for the fans.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll go to the media for questions now for defending Daytona 500 champion, Ryan Newman.
Q. Can you tell me, I'm doing a feature on Live Oak Plantation, and it seems to be like somewhat of a racer's haven, and Jim Gresham said that he really enjoyed his fishing trip with you and you were super-competitive. Just tell me a little bit about what you liked about the experience out there.
RYAN NEWMAN: Yeah, it's a great plantation, a great place to enjoy the outdoors. A couple great fishing holes he's got down there, which obviously I enjoy fishing, and some quail hunting and pheasant hunting, as well. For any outdoorsman or outdoorswoman to be able to go down there and spend some time, it's a great place. Jim is a great guy, and he was right, he were very competitive. If it wasn't the biggest fish, it was the most fish, and we definitely enjoyed our time fishing together.
Q. I guess I'm going to ask you what changes you've noticed or that you know are coming up at Stewart-Haas Racing, how much you've been to the shop, and if anything is real different over there and what you've found as you've gotten started.
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I have kind of spent some time vacationing, which I don't typically do, just because it is vacation time. Krissie and I went to Idaho to do some snowmobiling through New Year's and came back, and I went on a little man trip, went hunting up in Illinois, and got back and doing a little bit of work this week.
But just in general, Tony Gibson, Tony Stewart, Darian Grubb, all those guys, Bobby Hutchins, are working on putting the family tree together. They've done a great job in my opinion so far. We're really looking forward to testing. Tomorrow we're going down to test in New Smyrna, Florida, with the 39 and the 14. Just look forward to getting some of the first experiences underneath our belt.
Obviously with the testing schedule this year it's a little bit different, so just want to make sure we've got everything shined up for the Daytona 500.
Q. I'm putting together a story on this Hot Rods and Reels tournament up in Daytona on the 15th, and I had a chance to speak with Darrell Gwynn yesterday about it and I got a little bit of information from him. He actually mentioned that you and Tony are the two best fishermen he has out there. I've since had a chance to speak with Martin Truex. He strongly disagrees. Just wanted to get your thoughts on that tournament. I know you do an awful lot of work with your foundation and you're involved with a lot of outdoor-related projects. Just wanted to get your thoughts on the Hot Rods and Reels tournament and why it's so special and why it's something you participate in each year.
RYAN NEWMAN: Two things: I'll have to agree with Martin Truex there. He did win our celebrity portion of the Ryan Newman Foundation fishing tournament, so he's got that feather in his cap. Tony wasn't there to try to beat him -- actually, Tony was there and he did beat us both. The bottom line is Martin is one up on us right now. Darrell Gwynn's Hot Rods and Reels thing, it's a win-win for me. I really enjoy fishing, but I also like helping out and making a difference. What Darrell and the foundation does for the paralyzed people and in specific some of the paralyzed kids that get to put a smile on their face for the first time in a long time, that's really neat. Usually every event he has has a wheelchair giveaway, or a wheelchair is given away to somebody that's deserving of it. I believe this year the Outdoor Channel is helping out to add a little promotion for the event.
From a foundation standpoint and a charity standpoint, Darrell does a great job, and I really like being part of it.
Q. In the 2008 Daytona 500 you passed Tony Stewart in the last half lap or so to win the race. Pretend it's the 2009 Daytona 500 and it's you and Tony again. What do you do now that he's your boss?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, if we had to do the same thing last year and replay it, I would anticipate Tony pulling up in front of my line and I would push Tony ahead, knowing that I would be his teammate. Either way, Tony knows I'm a racer and I know he's a racer, and we'll race until the end, but we'll not sacrifice each other's performance to do that. That's the most important thing.
Q. Starting off with a new team, and now that you've been there a little bit, what are your realistic expectations for the year? What do you think the team can do?
RYAN NEWMAN: I am confident coming out of the box that we'll be a contender at the Daytona 500. I feel that there's going to be some things that we'll have to learn, but I think as a group, with our team, with the U.S. Army Chevrolet, that the people that we have with Tony Gibson and his group that came over from BEI and all the other people that were there from Haas racing that we'll be competitive. I feel with the Hendrick components, myself and Darian Grubb and Tony Gibson, that there's no reason that we're not.
Secondly, goal-wise our goal is for both cars to make it into the chase. Once we're in the Chase, we'll determine how much of a contender we are for the championship.
Q. I'm just wondering if now that you've had a chance to kind of interact with Tony in his new role as owner if you've got any good Tony stories? Has he surprised you with anything, or has it been about what you expected?
RYAN NEWMAN: No, I'd say the one thing that stands out in my mind when you asked me that was Tony has kind of welcomed me into his family. And when I say family, I don't mean Stewart-Haas Racing. He invited my wife Krissie and I up to his place. They did the charity hunt with Johnny Morris from Bass Pro Shops and Bill Jordan from Realtree Outdoors and gave a little girl who is ill an opportunity to shoot a deer, and she did, and it put a smile on her face. Just a situation like that, to do something good with my owner and other people is something I didn't really expect, and I'm happy to be a part of it.
Q. You mentioned that you're going to be testing at New Smyrna Speedway this week. How much testing have you guys been able to do in the wintertime?
RYAN NEWMAN: We tested once at the big Rockingham track, and just a one-day test, just to kind of get to meet and know each other on the radio as well as person to person, and this will be, I think, our last test before the season starts. I don't think that there's a necessary need in testing to the point that we're going out there to make cars faster. I believe that as an organization and as a team we can make the cars fast in the shop, be prepared to come off the truck and without testing be competitive.
Q. Tony is a Daytona boy, so I've got a particular interest in him. How is the communication between you guys? I know you guys are just starting, but have you gelled yet? Do you speak the same language?
RYAN NEWMAN: Honestly that's what we're going to work on tomorrow when we go to New Smyrna. He's going to be there and we'll have the 14 and 39 cars there. For me it's important to understand what his balance feels like, and vice versa; for Darian Grubb and Tony Gibson to work together; to understand when Tony says the car is loose that it's drivable or undrivable for me and vice versa. Those are the things that we'll work on from a communication standpoint and from a teamwork standpoint within the drivers and the crew chiefs and the teams tomorrow to be prepared not just for Daytona but for California.
Q. And if I can get one more in, there's no Preseason Thunder testing. Does that really make a difference at this point, you know, with how these cars have progressed over the years?
RYAN NEWMAN: I'd say if we were in this situation last year, then it would be a bigger situation knowing that we are taking a brand new car to a big track for the first time. But I'm very confident in my crew and my team, and I think Tony is in his, as well. I don't think it is at all necessary for us to go down there and test Daytona. Would it be an advantage for us as a team? Yeah, it is for every team, and that's why it's not necessary.
Q. How much time have you been able to spend with Tony Gibson so far? Do you guys trade notes on some of the things you learned at Penske versus what he's learned at DEI and combine those and I guess get the whole relationship between the two of you guys?
RYAN NEWMAN: I got to know Tony a little bit more towards the end of the season and his wife Beth and really think a lot of him. He's very much like Tony and I and enjoys the outdoors, fishing and hunting, and that's nice so you can connect outside of the racetrack. But his experience, his personality, his understanding of the way Hendrick Motorsports works and respect for the things that we do at Stewart-Haas Racing in conjunction with Hendrick Motorsports, I really look forward to working with him and the team and trying to succeed and accomplish our goals.
Q. How have things been with the Army sponsorship? Have you gotten to do anything with the Army yet or do you have anything planned in the near future?
RYAN NEWMAN: Yeah, yesterday I went to Fort Bragg with some of the members of the team. That was really a treat. It was a lot of fun, shot some guns, did some simulation things. They fired a few bombs off, shotguns inside of a 20-by-20 room with rubber walls, and I was in on part of that. The coolest thing I'd say was to be in their vertical wind tunnel, which was the simulation for basically skydiving, and to be able to do that in about six minutes, to be able to do it on my own, that was pretty neat.
To be the driver for the U.S. Army Chevrolet is an honor for me, and to see some of their technology and safety and some of the things that they do to prepare their team and their organization just as we do was pretty neat.
Q. I wanted to ask you something about something from last week. David Stremme was on a conference call and I had asked him one thing about what are some of the things that need to improve at Penske for that organization to be in the elite, among the top four, and he talked about a lot of different things. One of the things he said was, "You had Ryan Newman who was here start off the season very well, and then he knew he was leaving. It was kind of -- he had done a very good job, but he knew he was on his way out and he was going to do some other things."
I asked him just to clarify if he thought you were quitting on the team, and he said, "No, I don't think Ryan gave up at all." But he says, "Just as a driver and as a team, you see toward the end of the year there's a lot of things happening." He goes on to say, "If you're going to another organization, it's in your mind that, hey, I'm leaving, I'm going to a better place they feel."
I want to ask you a couple things in regard to that; one, if you had any comment in relation to that; and two, what might you say to people who might think lack of success at the end of last year for your team would be related to you looking ahead?
RYAN NEWMAN: David's comment, to me it's kind of vague. You could read it several different ways. But I think he was just talking to the effect of I was moving on. And when you're moving on, it's hard to not necessarily be as dedicated, but for the organization and everything to click the way it was, and at the point that I decided to move on, it wasn't very successful.
The bottom line was I moved on, and I'm happy being where I am with the U.S. Army and Stewart-Haas Racing. As far as the situation goes, I felt grateful to have Tony Stewart who was my future teammate to be going through the same situation and talking to him, him separating himself from Joe Gibbs Racing and the Home Depot and all the things that he did, where I was separating from Alltel and all the great successes that we had. It was difficult to separate those things. I guess it's kind of like working two jobs at the same time. Eventually you run out of sleep.
But for me it was just a difficult time to move on. My dedication to driving the race car never changed. I drove every lap as hard as I possibly could, and we just didn't have the successes, even though I was moving on at the end of the year, that I even would have hoped. My goal was still to win five of the last five races. That never changed. It's just, it didn't happen, and it's easy to look at things like that.
Q. Let me ask you one other thing. For many people who -- you talked about two jobs at once, so maybe for some people who haven't changed jobs in a while. Some people might say what's so difficult about having one job knowing you're going somewhere else. What are the challenges maybe that you face and Tony face and that other drivers face when they're going through that type of situation?
RYAN NEWMAN: I guess the two things that come to mind for me are responsibility and people. You have a responsibility to fulfill yourself and your obligations for the year, and you still have goals you want to achieve, whether they're personal or through the team. So that was one thing.
But the people part of it, to separate those people and the friendships and the things that you had, not to throw them away or discard them, but to keep those friendships and move on and create new friendships with other people, it's literally kind of doing two jobs and two things at once.
Q. Ryan, is it going to be strange at all going back to defend the Daytona 500 title in a different car, different crew and all that stuff?
RYAN NEWMAN: I think the strange moment will be going to the Daytona 500 Experience and being part of that and pulling the old car out. That will be, I guess, the cutting of the umbilical cord of sorts. Again, I really look forward to competing next year -- this year with Stewart-Haas Racing in the U.S. Army Chevrolet. I really look forward to creating our own successes.
Q. It's more of a clarification point than anything else. Can you explain to me the transition of points between the 66 car to your car and where the points are going to come from for Tony and your thought process going into the race based upon that and how that actually formed from the Haas cars into your cars and now Tony's cars from last year?
RYAN NEWMAN: That's a good question (laughing).
Q. I've tried to figure it out. It's complicated and I've got other people trying to figure it out, too. We're trying to clarify because Tony can kind of lean on Sprint Cup champion. Does he take the worst car out of the group and you take the next worst car out of the group and that guarantees you the first six races, that sort of thing?
RYAN NEWMAN: As far as I know, this is the way it all kind of works out. The 66 becomes the 39 in points. Scott Riggs did an excellent job to get back into the top 35 after getting out of it to lock us into a spot for the first five or six races, whatever it is. Tony has the 70 points, which are outside the top 35, but he also has the most recent champion's provisional for anybody that's not locked into the top 35. So that in essence locks him into the first five or six races or whatever. That's the gist of it as far as I know.
Q. From the standpoint of that, does it feel almost like at least a sense of relief because it could be awkward from the standpoint that you're the defending champion at Daytona, and if the transfer of points didn't happen the way that it is that if you blew an engine you weren't even racing?
RYAN NEWMAN: Believe me, it weighed on my mind. But again, that's part of racing. I would be putting myself into that position and Tony Stewart will be putting himself in that position potentially. But either way the bottom line is that's racing and you have to go on and you have to move on. If that were to have happened, it wouldn't have been a bright moment or a happy moment. But again, that's racing.
Q. What kind of attraction or draw to your family and friends is that gold Daytona 500 trophy wherever you have it displayed, and do you still give it some special attention?
RYAN NEWMAN: Yeah, it's actually sitting right on my desk on my computer in the house. It's a special piece for me. Obviously it's one of a kind, and it was kind of interesting when I got the trophy at first; I thought, man, that's a pretty cool trophy. They were like, yeah, it's gold. I figured every one of them was gold. The 50th running was pretty neat.
It's definitely special. It's a unique trophy. I'm definitely into old cars and stuff like that, and to see the old car on top of it, that's pretty neat, as well.
Q. We sat together last year at the Kennedy Space Center when you got your flags back from the International Space Station, and we talked a little bit about Tony, and at the time it hadn't been announced that you were going to drive for him. But everybody knew that Tony was leaving at that time, and I asked you the question, just random, you kind of gave me a story, I was too dumb to see it, though, I said, would you like to have Tony Stewart as a teammate? And I remember you laughed and you looked at me, and you said something about being far-fetched, and then you looked at me again, and you said, "But I know more than you do." I said, "Well, go ahead, expand on that." You said, "No, leave it at that; I know more than you do." So you knew at that time, that there were conversations that you might be joining Tony.
You've just talked about how difficult it was finishing the year knowing you were moving on. How difficult was it maybe those couple of months over the summer that you knew you guys were putting this thing together but you had to be so tight lipped about it?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, it was tough for me because I was off of a Daytona 500 victory with a team that I had been with for seven years, and I had a situation that came where I potentially had an opportunity to move on. Tony gave me that opportunity, we talked about it, and my season was kind of dissolving, let's say, throughout the summer months. But yeah, you're right. You potentially have a good future in "Law and Order" or "CSI." I answered the way I wanted to answer, and you kind of got your answer without knowing too much.
Q. My question to you is you have a degree in mechanical engineering, and to the young guys that are coming up in racing right now, how has that impacted your career in terms of being able to communicate to team owners, to sponsors, to crew chiefs? How has that been able to help you out in your career in racing?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, for me it's just taken me to another level to understand the race car, the physics part of it, the gravities and the way all the things work with the race car mechanically. That makes a difference to me personally. I'm not saying it makes me smarter than everybody else, but it's made me a smarter person to the point that I tell anybody if you have the opportunity to go to college or to a university to get a further education, do it.
What you major in isn't what's going to make you the ultimately smart guy. It's the well-roundedness that you come out of any kind of further education with that makes you a better person and will make you a smarter person in order to make more money and be happier in the future.
For me my actual title is vehicle structure engineering. It's a mechanical backbone, but it gave me the opportunity to be flexible in school, and then I obviously have that diploma and that education to fall back on for the rest of my career.
Q. And that's exactly the point of it. You've got something that a lot of guys don't have. You have an opportunity because you had the foresight to think about what am I going to do after my career, and there's just so many young guys that are out there right now racing at the local levels that are just -- they don't have the opportunity -- they have the opportunity to go to school but they have these ideas that they're going to be NASCAR racers. And I've seen it time after time again, that it's difficult for these young men right now because the dream when they were 18, 19 and 20 did not materialize for them and they have nothing to fall back on, and you have a degree.
Let's face it, I've watched you running back in the USAC deal with Stewart, and Tony Stewart is a friend of mine, and you were an outstanding race car driver then and you are now. But looking into the future, you just kind of like said, okay, I need this degree, I need to be able to further my education to be able to fall back on something, and a lot of the young guys don't do that.
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I do get a few emails through our website and the fan club and things like that where people will tell me that their son or their daughter is going to school because of the things I did in my career, and that's very gratifying, and to me it's cool to have somebody model their future off of the things that you did.
But in the end you have to create your own future, you have to do the things that make you happy, you have to do the things that are going to be beneficial for you financially and for your personal life for the long run. I would definitely say just as I did before that any kind of further education, it's just that; it's going to make you smarter, it's going to make you a more well-rounded person.
Q. I wanted to ask you about sponsorship, and you're currently not fully being sponsored. Do you worry about that? Do you think about that, and your thoughts on where you're at with that?
RYAN NEWMAN: Is this Claire Lang formerly of XM Satellite Radio, now with Sirius?
Q. Yes, sir.
RYAN NEWMAN: You're not the only one to jump ship in the off-season, huh?
Q. Let's see how we each do. My question is about sponsorship and whether you worry about being partially sponsored, whether you can do much to help further that along in the situation.
RYAN NEWMAN: I'm really excited about what the U.S. Army has done to jump on board and be a sponsor for our #39 Chevrolet. I know that the people at Stewart-Haas Racing are continually working on the additional sponsorship to fulfill all 37 races. But in the meantime hopefully we can come out of the box strong. My focus is Daytona, Daytona 500, and in the end they pay me to drive the race car, and that's my ultimate responsibility. But I do stay aware of sponsorship and things that I may be obligated to later in the year.
Q. So you're not worried at being partially sponsored right now?
RYAN NEWMAN: I wouldn't say I'm worried. I just know it's something that the people at SHR are focusing on, and rightfully so. It's a trying time in our economy and we're trying to do the things that we can to be as successful as we can. Having correct sponsorship that will align and work correctly with Office Depot, Old Spice and the U.S. Army is important as well as making our performance and trying to make our team's dreams come true.
Q. You mentioned that you've been over to Rockingham. I'm just wondering, what's that place looking like these days? Do you foresee more testing over at Rockingham because of the rules? And also, where did you say you were going to test and when? Earlier I didn't catch that.
RYAN NEWMAN: Yeah, Rockingham is still a good place to test. It's a great racetrack. I really, really enjoyed the driving around there. It was a lot of fun, really more so racing than driving. The tires fell off so fast that as you test it as a driver it's kind of frustrating, but when you're racing it's kind of like being the local go-kart track when they throw the water or powder down; it's kind of slick. Tomorrow actually we're testing in New Smyrna, Florida, both the 14 and the 39, so we're looking forward to that, as well.
Q. Did you get a look at -- I know Jimmie Johnson talked about them building the short track that's supposed to simulate Martinsville over there at Rockingham. Did you get on that, too?
RYAN NEWMAN: No, I have not tested that. I went over and looked at it. They call it "Little Rock" because it's at Rockingham, but I think Andy Hillenburg has done a great job to try to resurrect what was a great racetrack for the fans to come back and enjoy some great racing. He's done some great things there.
Q. I apologize if you've already answered this. What's it like this year more than any other year, the fact that there is no Preseason Thunder in the actual sense of cars on the track and getting ready for the speed weeks and stuff like that at Daytona?
RYAN NEWMAN: Realistically it's three days off that could have and should have been off in my opinion. I never thought that we needed to test. Sure, it's nice -- the one thing that I wish we could test for is for the fans because there are several fans that show up at Daytona and come to the racetrack and enjoy the atmosphere and the testing. For instance, some fans might not be able to afford to come for the Daytona 500 or the speed weeks or anything else, or any other race for that matter; they might just want to come to testing. I wish we could service the fans in that way, but in the end with the economy the way it is, I don't feel like we need to test as a team or NASCAR needs to test as an association. It's all good with me. We just get a couple more days off that they find something else for us to do.
HERB BRANHAM: First of all, thanks to the media for joining us today, good turnout. Ryan Newman, defending Daytona 500 champion. Best of luck, and we'll see you soon.
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