NASCAR Preseason Fan Festival
January 16, 2009
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
HERB BRANHAM: We asked you this a few days ago, and maybe we can start off the same way. What's it feel like simply to come back as the defending champion of our biggest race.
RYAN NEWMAN: It really doesn't feel like almost a year has passed. That's the first thing. Obviously it was an extreme honor in 2008 to win that 50th running of the 500. To do it in the fashion that we did, a one-two finish with Kurt Busch as my teammate, obviously, like I said, it was a great honor and privilege. Really look forward to defending the title with a different team and being a teammate to Tony Stewart this year.
Q. Physically how did you feel at New Smyrna in the test, and typically how long does it take you to get in racing shape, and will the general lack of testing impact that at all this year?
RYAN NEWMAN: The New Smyrna test was good. It served two purposes, really just to get some more experience with the crew and with the cars because they are a good bit different, more so from the people standpoint.
The second part was to get some information for our sake, meaning Stewart-Haas Racing's sake to be able to compare, set up notes for the 14 and the 39, which is extremely important, not necessarily for Daytona but beyond Daytona; California, Vegas type stuff, and just to understand our language of communication as far as talking about the car.
I mean, we can talk about racing all day, but when it comes down to diagnosing how the balance of the car is, that's extremely important. That answers the first part of your question.
Q. Well, when was the last time you were actually in a race car, and physically how did your body react?
RYAN NEWMAN: Physically?
Q. It was a short track. How did your body react?
RYAN NEWMAN: I mean, it's nothing. I think we did like the longest run was eight laps, so there's really no physical stamina needed for that, per se. I mean, yeah, there is, but nothing that -- last time I was in a car we tested Rockingham 1st of December. Not December 1st, but I don't remember the exact date. And that was no different. I mean, it's totally different testing than it is racing because as a driver you put it on the edge, but the edge is not near the same as when you're out there for a fuel run with 42 other cars around you.
Q. Typically you don't really find coming from the off-season to the season, you don't find any physical demands on your body as far as getting used to that.
RYAN NEWMAN: Not as far as that. I was way more whipped and tired snowmobiling in Idaho for five days straight than I would ever become in testing anywhere at any time.
Q. Will the lack of testing impact how quickly you get up to speed and in racing shape?
RYAN NEWMAN: No, I don't think it'll change. The lack of testing or the amount of testing, any part of that, I don't think any of that is going to change -- I don't think any part of that will change the racing that we will see in Daytona or any race to come after that.
Q. Kind of a side question to what you're talking about now, do you see, though, that the gap between the haves and the have-nots might get wider because of Hendrick and Gibbs and Roush, their ability to spend money for engineering, and all the extra things that they can do to get a car better prepared, dialed in, by the time they get to the racetrack?
RYAN NEWMAN: I think that there is potential for that. I'm no economic genius, but I'd say there's more potential for that from July in Daytona on, not picking that specific race, but just that time frame, because you have a bunch of teams out there that have a bunch of cars built, and no rules have changed to speak of.
I think that when it comes to Daytona, you can still sell a sponsorship more so than you can for the first 20 races of a season, let's say, so the bottom line is I think you'll still have the same economic start to the season from a team standpoint, or close to it, but I think that you'll see the separation become more so as the season wears on.
We saw it a little bit last year where the 40 car dropped and nobody expected it, and I think you'll see a little bit more of that type of thing with the economics that we have now.
Q. You're one of the guys without full sponsorship. Do you notice any difference resource-wise because of that? And secondly, any difference resource-wise between Penske and where you are now?
RYAN NEWMAN: We're taking the approach that we will have sponsorship. I know that the people at Stewart-Haas Racing are actively seeking sponsorship and they have some strong leads, and obviously it's not an easy task to fit when you're talking about the U.S. Army to tag-team up with another sponsor. You have to keep -- maintain a specific image there. That's one thing that we're working on.
Tony Stewart and the group at SHR have done a great job in my opinion of building competitive race cars in what we've had for an off-season and building a team to go along with that and an organization to go along with that from a personnel standpoint.
From a financial standpoint, I don't see any difference per se between what Penske did as far as parts and pieces or the amount of money that went into the parts and pieces. I just see a difference in detail.
Q. Just kind of following up on that question, even with that status, do you still feel like, well -- your observations about the change of scenery and how that's affected you in going from Penske to more or less a startup unit and having to really see things being built from scratch? And the second question is your impressions or observations of Tony as an owner so far?
RYAN NEWMAN: It was a unique situation for me to go through the whole ownership change, not re-signing a contract, signing a contract with a different team, and I had -- I guess I had an accidental mentor I guess you could say in Tony Stewart because he went through everything that I did about two weeks before. He told his team before I did, and he made his announcements before I did.
He kind of set the stage for or at least gave me an idea of what to expect how things were going to go, not just Tony but also the people around him.
In general from a leadership standpoint, he's done a very good job because I see him being very detailed to the point of he's hiring the right people for the right position. Tony Stewart isn't there every day running Stewart-Haas Racing. I think he's doing a very good job. When I say that, I mean Tony Gibson and Darian Grubb, Bobby Hutchinson and some other people, key people that he's been acquiring to help run the company.
Q. The first part about your change of scenery --
RYAN NEWMAN: My change of scenery, you're right. The second part of that was the toughest part for me to leave Penske Racing was to separate the personal friendships from the professional relationships. The professional relationships had to change. There were people that I talked to that -- you know, I didn't have -- we didn't go out to dinner. We had a relationship in respect to the race car, and there are people that I still maintain a friendship with that work for the team currently that I have to separate, and that was extremely difficult.
Going into the shop and telling the people that have worked so hard that gave me that championship ring for Daytona in February, that worked so hard to get that, it was hard to say, "I'm sorry, guys, it's just not working out. We've won once but we haven't won since, and it's just not working." That was extremely difficult, not a tearjerker but it'll choke you up a little bit.
Q. How do your likes and dislikes in a race car compare to Tony's, and does that even matter if you're different or similar when you sit down on a race weekend to discuss what you want to do to your cars?
RYAN NEWMAN: Part of that I don't really know yet. I know ultimately we like to have race cars that go fast. That's the generic answer. But I think the way we have grown up racing USAC midgets and Silver Crown cars and Sprint cars that we have a lot of similarities, driving the car with the right rear tire, just the way it handles, the way we brake and accelerate. I think we've learned a lot and acclimated ourselves to the Sprint Cup cars because of that.
Not to say that because Jimmie Johnson grew up racing stadium trucks that he is exactly the same or different, it's just that I know on seeing some of the throttle traces the last couple tests we've had, we're not that different, and that's good for us because I think we'll be able to share more information because of that.
Q. How do you define in layman's terms "driving off the right rear tire"?
RYAN NEWMAN: That's typically a car that has a lot of horsepower, not a lot of weight, and a big right rear tire. We had 18-inch right rear tires and four inches of stagger, and I think the left were 15 inches wide. The tires were wider, had a lot more meat to them, and we just got used to it. If you got on the gas really hard and got sideways, you were smoking the right rear tire, and that's what you had to manage as a driver because so much of your grip was based off that right rear tire, and with the Cup cars now, as you see, we're driving them a lot more sideways than we ever used to, and you'll see guys actually smoking the tires, so it's starting to transfer over, I think, more than it ever had in the past.
Q. Could you talk about why you're here today, this Fan Fest? It's cold outside, people are lined up and just what that means to come here -- not drive but just be here to see these people?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, we're still representing our sponsors for the fans and being able to tie the two together. We were joking in the car earlier when we were doing some other stuff, we've kind of lost the thunder in Preseason Thunder because we're not testing, but at the same time we still have a responsibility to the fans to be able to come here and say thanks and say, hey, we'll be back in a few weeks, so check us out. It's still a good thing for the sport ultimately because of the fans, and if the fans show up, we'll be here.
Q. Can you kind of talk about what your Nationwide plans are? I know you're doing some stuff for Kevin, and what car is going to be the crew chief, stuff like that.
RYAN NEWMAN: We're working on a couple different things. We've got a couple different sponsors. I'm not sure what they've announced yet. We've done some photo shoots but I don't want to speak out of turn. It's a minimum of six races, trying to do more than that, and I believe Ernie Cope will be the crew chief.
Q. Can you compare other sports to racing cars like hockey like last night and maybe football?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, obviously there's a level of competition, and there's a team aspect involved. Outside of that, I've never been at all a stick-and-ball sport fan. I will watch a good game now and then, and I have no favorite teams in the other sports at all. The last we were talking about earlier, the last true football team that I really liked was the 49ers when Joe Montana played, and that was a long time ago.
I admire the team aspect, I admire the competition, I admire the confrontations and the emotion that goes into it. Outside of that, it's just a sport for other people.
Q. Do you feel like you've reached a point in your career that you just need a change and that for all the relationships you've built up at Penske and everything that you can look forward to this and say, I need to be reinvigorated?
RYAN NEWMAN: It's a little bit of that, but to me it's another opportunity. I've always admired, with the exception of a couple on-track situations which you always have, Tony Stewart, his racing ability. I've learned in the past few years through experience, firsthand and obviously his stats, that he's been a championship car owner. I believe in him, obviously, otherwise I wouldn't put myself in this position.
Back in the third row there's obviously the tie to Hendrick Motorsports, which is obvious because of Jimmie Johnson's success in the last three years. I feel that welcome out of the box strong. I don't know how strong, but I have confidence, a lot of confidence, in Tony Gibbs and Darian Grubb's influence with Tony, and just look forward to a lot of things.
It's not a fresh start. I kind of refer to it as a clean piece of paper. It's really not. I've still got all the notes from all the things I did wrong and all the things I did right, so I'm not going back to being a rookie with the 02 car in 2001. So it's different from that. But at the same time I'm trying to achieve my goals and dreams, no different than I did then with somebody else.
Q. Are you going to try to get any kind of replica of the 500 car for your own collection?
RYAN NEWMAN: I don't have any intentions.
Q. Who do you think is the championship favorite this year and why?
RYAN NEWMAN: That's a very good question. I mean, the obvious is Jimmy. You can't go against three in a row. There's never been four in a row, but based off the stats you can't go against him. I think Carl is going to be strong, and we saw Kyle struggle at the end of the year. For a while there we thought nobody could pull his cape off, and then it fell off and he never found it. You just never know. I have a lot of confidence in our situation with Stewart-Haas, and I don't see any reason why we can't at some point dominate.
Q. I don't have the stats to back it up, but it seems like most drivers that win a lot of races seem to do it with the same crew chief. How much input did you have in picking Tony Gibson, and why do you think he'll be the guy that will put you on another one of those streaks?
RYAN NEWMAN: Honestly when I started talking to Tony it kind of opened my eyes not knowing what my career decision was going to be. I've never been one to -- how do you say it -- communicate a whole lot in what we call the "trailer park." I've kept to myself, but I kind of opened up a little bit this year, got to know a few more people, and thought a lot of what Tony Gibson did with Mark Martin and Aric Almirola this year. Obviously he has a lot of experience, but not just plain racing experience, but he's got experience with Hendrick Motor Sports, but he's got experience with Darian Grubb over there. In the end Tony Gibson is ultimately a great racer, and I believe that a great racer makes a great crew chief. I don't have a lot of experience with those calls. I don't know if he's going to call four tires every time. I don't know a lot of those things, and I have also said in the last week or so that I don't think there's going to be some revelation and chemistry. I think chemistry just happens. It's not something you create. It just happens, and I see that that has a high potential for happening with the two of us.
Q. Back to the right rear tire, you said earlier that you're starting to see a lot more guys ride off that right rear tire, and given your experience and where you came from, do you think that this eventually is going to play more into favor like you and Tony and Gordon and Kasey Kahne, guys who came up from that?
RYAN NEWMAN: I think it does. I'm not saying that guys that can't drive a car sideways aren't going to succeed, but in general we've seen cars running way more sideways now in the last year and a half with the new car than we ever have. If you look at some of the things Carl Edwards has done and Kyle had a car crossed up, I can't remember exactly where it was, but I can picture Jimmy's car off of turn 2 someplace just completely sideways and he goes on and wins the race. You wouldn't have saw that four or five years ago. If your car was sliding that much you were never going to succeed. You couldn't fix that. You were three laps down at the end of the race. I don't know if it's a factor of the car or the tires or just the additional horsepower that we have. We're over 100 horsepower up from where we were five, six years ago, which is huge. I mean, that's 25 percent at times. That driving off the right rear sensation -- not so much driving it with the cup car as it is driving it sideways or yawed out.
Q. Kevin Harvick won the 500 in 2006 and hasn't won since. You won the 500 last year and haven't won since. Is that just an odd coincidence?
RYAN NEWMAN: God, I hope so (laughter). You know, I've become closer friends with Kevin in the last year, and I know it's not for lack of effort on either of our parts. Just hopefully coincidence as it may.
Q. Going back to the people on the team, how important is it to have the right people doing the right things and working together? A lot of people think racing is all mechanical, but it's been my experience that it's people driven.
RYAN NEWMAN: It's 100 percent people because without the people, you can't have the mechanical. You know, I learned that in the last three or four years especially, just trying to -- like I said, I don't think you can -- there's no development equation for chemistry. It's just like -- or the generic term for chemistry. You have it or you don't. Like you said, or somebody said earlier, you've got Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham, myself and Matt Borland, Kasey Kahne and Kenny Francis have had it at times and the obvious would be Jimmie Johnson. I look forward to working with Tony Gibson and trying our hand at creating the ultimate chemistry.
HERB BRANHAM: Ryan, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|