Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, made his way to victory lane at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last year to claim his first grandfather clock (the trophy awarded to Martinsville race winners). Earlier this week, Newman participated in a NASCAR video conference to discuss last year’s win, his 2013 season so far, and Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Below, is a transcript of his interview:
Q. Ryan, last year’s Martinsville finish was one of the most memorable of the 2012 season. Talk about that exciting finish and going back to the same short track this weekend.
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, it was a long, hard-fought battle for us to get back to that position. We came off pit road, we had taken two tires. Before that we had come from a lap down, so our car was getting better. And I think the front row, which was Jimmie and Jeff, I think Jeff was inside of Jimmie, they didn’t take tires, and I think they had roughly 100, 120 laps on their tires. But with a couple laps to go, basically they put themselves in position to be up front but were vulnerable because they didn’t have tires. I got a run off Clint, Clint went to block me, basically gave him the shot to get him up inside of Jeff, and they went three wide. I think Clint hit the curb just a little bit, Jimmie pinched him down, Dale kind of spun and got shuffled up, and I snuck around the inside of them and basically just put ourselves in a position with our Outback Chevrolet to take advantage of that situation and led the last couple laps under green and got that first grandfather clock. It was an awesome finish for me, a tough one for some other guys. But it was just great short track racing.
Q. We have a handful of drivers going to Martinsville this year, this week in both the Cup and Truck Series who have never been there before, and I wonder what makes that racetrack so challenging for someone who’s never driven on it?
RYAN NEWMAN: From a racing standpoint, the biggest and toughest part is just managing your brakes and somewhat managing your race car, keeping your fenders clean and things like that. We’ve all grown up racing short tracks, half mile or less, and I don’t think that that’s so much the challenge as it is just managing your brakes, your car and putting yourself in position for the end of the race.
This I think is the toughest part. That was the toughest part for me was mostly adapting to using that middle peddle the least.
Q. Do you have any particular memories about your first race at Martinsville?
RYAN NEWMAN: I know we struggled with the brakes for a while there for a few years and then finally got better. We ran second to Jimmie once and kind of gave me the confidence to know that we were — and we were actually a little bit better than him at the end, and I chose not to bang him out of the way. But that was something that gave me confidence to be able to know, and as the generation of cars got better, the cooling got better, the fans got better and brakes became less of an issue.
We’ve got a little bit different ducting with this new Gen-6 car. We’ve got three ports in the front instead of one big duct, so hopefully we’ll have good cooling and not have any issues this weekend.
Q. In California Tony obviously had his deal with Joey. I was curious how you would expect Tony to race Joey at Martinsville.
RYAN NEWMAN: Good question. I don’t know if they talked, plan or talking or won’t ever talk again. I think that there was true frustrations in the blocking. I think blocking is a chicken way to drive, not to — it’s just something I don’t do. If you’ve got a run on me, take it. If I can get through the corner better than you, then we’ll race, but blocking is an IndyCar form or F1 form or an open wheel type move it seems like. It’s not to say they don’t do it in NASCAR; obviously they do, but to me it’s just a chicken way of driving and not very respectful for the guys around you. You’re there to race, you’re not there to block. So I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if there will be retaliation, I don’t know if they’ll talk and never have retaliation, who knows, good question.
Q. If you’re around them will you have to be extra careful or can you not worry about who might be feuding with who in a race like that?
RYAN NEWMAN: Both. I mean, you have to know what’s going on and watch out for the dramas, but at the same time I have a race of my own to run, and a part of that is watching out for what’s going on, whether it’s something that’s carried over from the past few weeks or something that has happened that day. Going to have to keep tabs on who turns who or who’s angry or where’s everybody at on their scorecards as you go through a race like Martinsville sometimes.
Q. You talked about this, you won last year’s race at Martinsville, but let’s face it, it was not a Sunday drive for you. You were penalized early in the race for speeding on pit road, then about halfway through the race you went a lap down to Jeff Gordon, and at that point most of the race fans said, well, that’s it for Ryan Newman. Can you explain other than the caution flags and the accident, can you explain to NASCAR fans how you and your entire crew never give up in those type of situations, you just keep pressing onward and onward?
RYAN NEWMAN: We never give up in any situation. That was just one good example. But we had known that in the past we had had a good car there, so we kind of went with the same setup and same package, and the car was good. I put ourselves in a bad situation when I was busted for speeding in that position. I didn’t think I could get busted for speeding on pit road because of the way the timing lines were, and I did, so that was my mistake. But to fight back the way we did, we made the car better throughout the race, and it was just great teamwork. The guys did a good job on that last pit stop to put me out fifth, which gave me the opportunity to give Clint a little extra courage going into Turn 1.
But every weekend we have different challenges, and as a team, every team has different challenges, but for our team we never give up, and I am sure every team says that, it’s just a matter of who fights through it the best. We had a great Sunday a year ago.
Q. You’re only one of a handful of drivers that really did well in their rookie season and finished top 10 over the last 15, 20 years. What is tough about being a rookie and reaching that — getting to that level, and what’s been your impression of Stenhouse so far this year?
RYAN NEWMAN: I just think it’s so much tougher now because of the testing schedule and what — where the economy and everything is, to be able to do some of the things that we did 10 years ago. I had a great advantage at Penske Racing with Roger and Don Miller and Matt Borland and we did a lot of testing, and even in the Nationwide Series before we got to Cup. So that helped me on the different racetracks. Ricky has got experience obviously with the Nationwide Series at a lot of tracks, but it’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to a place like Martinsville or Pocono and some of the road courses like Sonoma that he hasn’t been to.
That’s going to be the difficult part. Even back 10 years ago we went to Sonoma and tested because it was brand new for me, and we really didn’t have the opportunities to do a late model race like they have there or the west race. So it’s just different situations now than it was then. But yeah, it’s definitely tough for a rookie to be that competitive, to be a top 10 caliber team and driver and organization in a rookie season.
Q. I’d basically like to know what you like about running at Martinsville and why you think — why do you think you’ve been so successful there?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I haven’t been successful until the last four or five years, but basically I just enjoy the short tracks. I enjoy the flat short tracks. I don’t know if I have a better feel for the tires or what it is. If you look at my stats and you take places like Martinsville and Phoenix and Loudon and Richmond into consideration, they’re some of my best stats of all the races I go to. They’re flat short tracks. I don’t know if it’s the braking, I don’t know if it’s other drivers struggle there or what, but I really enjoy Martinsville, I enjoy the history of our sport, I enjoy all the things if you look back to the modified days and the old coupe days and things like that, that makes it even more special for me to do what I’m doing and reach back and have a part of history and to have that grandfather clock now. It makes you — just like a Daytona 500 trophy, it makes you want one just that much more.
Q. You guys have had back-to-back top 10s now in your last two starts. Do you feel like you’ve kind of put the early problems behind you, and are you surprised that you’re 20th in points after five races?
RYAN NEWMAN: You know, with the two DNFs and you look at how some of the guys like Keselowski and Earnhardt have come out of the box with multiple top 5s and top 10s in the first five races, they make it even tougher on us. Our two DNFs at Phoenix and the engine failure from my missed shift at Las Vegas really put us in a hole, so the two races definitely helped out to know that we can be competitive at a place like Bristol where we ran seventh, California we ran 10th, and Daytona we ran fifth, to look at the differences in the racetracks that kind of gives us a little bit of perspective for the season to know that we’re versatile to go to different racetracks and we can be competitive as a driver, as a team and within the organization.
I look forward to Martinsville, but I just — those two DNFs really hurt us in the points. I’m not so much worried about being 20th or wherever we’re at as much as I am making sure that we keep the top 10 streak going and moving forward, and I think we can do that at Martinsville.
Q. Tony Stewart commented last year that it takes about five races into a Sprint Cup season to see which teams will show strength. Do you agree with that, and how do you feel now about your team’s efforts going into this race number six?
RYAN NEWMAN: I agree. I agree, especially this year with the new car. You take the first five races that we’ve had, they’re entirely different kinds of racetracks, and I think that that — when it comes to analyzing the start of your season and the performance of a team or organization, yes, the first five races give an indication of who’s done their homework and who’s coming out of the box strong, but it also tells you that for us this year, as far as the car goes, what the car has capabilities of and how it raced.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
Q. With five races in the books already this season, what is the No. 1 goal you made to improve yourself as a driver for the next 31?
RYAN NEWMAN: I can’t sit here and say that I’ve got one goal to be better. I think that we’ve done well for a new team with the 39 guys and our Quicken Loans Chevrolet to be as good as we are this year with a bunch of actually new guys that are really new to their roles and new to the Sprint Cup Series for that matter.
I’m proud of what Matt Borland has put together as a team, and we’ve got three top 10s in five races, albeit two DNFs, but our ultimate goal I would say would be to have zero DNFs for the next 31 because it’s going to take zero DNFs in the last 10 to be a champion.
Q. You had last weekend off. What are some of the things as a driver you go over with the crew that you wouldn’t have time to do during a race week?
RYAN NEWMAN: Just some of the things that — they’ve taken some time off, too, so it’s good for us to kind of separate ourselves from the things that we love with respect to racing and enjoy some family time and enjoy some time away doing something a little bit different.
But for us it’ll be getting back towards racing and talking about Martinsville, and like I was talking to my crew chief Matt today already about Texas. We’re already thinking about Martinsville, but we’re already thinking about Texas, as well, as far as some things we can try on the intermediate tracks to make our Quicken Loans Chevrolet even faster.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR