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Newman Is Driving Like A New Man In 2011

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 1 2011

Ryan Newman is off to a terrific start to the 2011 season. Is it because of skill or luck? It doesn't matter to him and his Stewart Haas Racing team. (RacinToday HHP Photo by Alan Marler)

Call it solid preparation and execution or call it luck. Ryan Newman is off to a great start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

Heading to Martinsville for the sixth race of the season, the Stewart Haas Racing driver already has rolled up four top-10 and three top-five finishes. That’s just one less top-five than Newman had in all of 2010 while on the way to finishing 15th in the points.

Thanks to his fifth-place finish last Sunday in California, Newman is second in the season standings, just nine points behind series leader Carl Edwards. Meanwhile, boss and teammate Tony Stewart is off to a solid start too, standing sixth, just 17 points behind Edwards.

“Some of it is luck,’’ Newman said. “Even the little bit of bad luck we had at Daytona (where he finished 22nd) we led the most laps. Then, going into Phoenix, we were fortunate to stay out of the big one there at Phoenix and that was the luck we usually had. It was just that we were on the other side of the luck; we were on the bad luck side, not the good luck side.

“But, in saying that, I think the team as a whole has done a good job of having cars that are performing well so that we are in a better position. Our pit crew has done a much better job this year to open the season than they have in the past. And, in saying that, I think that with our start to the season, meaning the No. 39 side, I think that also helps the No. 14 (Stewart) side because we have

Ryan Newman will the hit the track at Martinsville Friday second in points. (RacinToday HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

two teams that are starting off well versus one team that has notoriously started off well, not as well as Tony is, but well.’’

The team, entering just its third season under Stewart’s stewardship, started surprisingly well with both Stewart and Newman making the Chase for the championship in 2009.  Last year, though, Newman’s half of SHR failed to keep up with its two-time champion teammate.

But things are definitely looking up so far in 2011.

“Just the overall strength and the backbone of our team and our organization is much better and stronger than it has been, and part of that is just pure confidence,’’ Newman said.

Stewart agreed.

“They’ve always done a good job, but I think they’ve had a little bit of luck go their way this time around and they are definitely running better,’’ Stewart said of the No. 39 Chevrolet. “They just got off to a really good start and it’s kind of worked that way for both sides. Both of our cars have been good. I think both teams have just been running better. “

At this point in his career, a serious run at the championship by Newman would be a bit surprising to some people.

He came to Cup full-time in 2002 with Penske Racing as a precocious 24-year-old, earning Rookie of the Year honors with a win and six poles on the way to a sixth-place finish in the points.

The next season, Newman led the series with eight wins and 11 poles and again finished sixth in the standings. He continued to race strongly the next two seasons, finishing seventh and sixth in the

The season is only five races old, but it is shaping up well for the folks at Stewart Haas Racing. (RacinToday HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

points with three more wins.

Since then, there has been only one top-10 season finish –  his first year with Stewart Haas – and just two wins; one last year at Phoenix.

But, at 33 and as a new father, Newman could well be entering the prime of his career, with the best still to come.

“It’s been an amazing start and the script is playing out the way we were hoping it would during the offseason,” Newman said. “We were off a bit in the beginning of (the California) race, but we made a few adjustments and the U.S. Army Chevrolet kept on getting better and better. The only bad news for us is that we didn’t win the race.”

Crew chief Tony Gibson has been a catalyst to the great start. His latest key decision came last Sunday when he opted for two tires on a late pit stop, a move that Newman praised. But Gibson is looking for a lot more.

“We’re going to ride this success as long as we can and build up a point cushion,’’ Gibson said. “Realistically, you know there are going to be some bad days. But, right now, we’re enjoying ourselves and having plenty of fun.”

The next big hurdle for Newman is getting back to Victory Circle, especially since the new rules for the Chase give the final two spots in the 12-man championship field to the drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins. But Newman said that isn’t the top priority for his team.

“I don’t think there is any pressure (to win),’’ Newman said. “It is, I guess, like an insurance program when it comes to the Chase. They said we would have been in the Chase if this year’s rules were last year’s rules. But, they weren’t and now they are different.

“But we are here to win each and every race. If you get that win and you have four DNFs (did not finish) after that, then there is a chance you may not be in the top 10, but you’ll have a chance to make that top-12 part of it. But in saying that, two wins and you can pretty much play around in the summer if you aren’t worried about getting extra wins and play with some things with the race cars and strategies and things like that to put yourself in a different position potentially.

“But, ultimately, we are here to win whether it is now or in Richmond or Daytona in July.’’

For now, Newman would be very happy to keep the luck on his side and keep racking up those top-fives and top-10s.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 1 2011
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