Ryan Newman talks comeback, milestones & engineering

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By Paul Schmidt

There are many different ways to be a successful NASCAR driver.

Four-time reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, for instance, is an ardent note-taker, the kind of person who records every minutae about races, tracks and other drivers.

Ryan Newman is an engineer and applies a lot of analysis to his racing, and to the track.  Is his the best way?

As Newman says, the truth is that some kind of a balance is best.

“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,” Newman said via teleconference. “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,” Newman added. “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.”nascar ryan newman

And as NASCAR and its drivers attempt to figure out just how to beat Johnson, Newman knows that Johnson’s domination has been not just good for the sport but good for motivation towards their own successes.

“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,” Newman said. “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.”

Still, one thing that Newman and his crew definitely have is a bevy of experience. Sunday’s race in Atlanta was Newman’s 300th career start. As far as milestones go, however, Newman was fairly unimpressed by this one.

“I don’t know. I mean, what’s a milestone look like? Is it granite or quartz?” Newman said with a chuckle. “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.”

One of the big keys of doing it even longer would be to continue to move up in this years’ standings. Newman finished 17th in Atlanta, good enough to move up 4 spots to 29th in the Sprint Cup standings.  Obviously, that’s not where he or his team hope and expect to end up.

“I think it’s real early to be talking about a comeback. Based on the numbers I guess you could call it that,” Newman said. “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.”

Part of that work will be integrating the new spoilers that NASCAR wants installed on all cars this season. The spoiler should have a direct effect on the way cars pass — in effect, making it easier for cars to get around and not lose speed.

A perhaps unintended consequence of the spoiler is that the cars may decelerate faster in spectacular crashes and keep many of these cars on the ground — perhaps reducing the violent crashes involving airborne stock cars. Newman, with his engineering degree background, has a unique perspective and ability to talk about the spoiler’s effects, though his team hadn’t conducted any hard tests.

“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,” Newman said. “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.”

It’s that same engineering degree that allows Newman to somewhat fly in the face of the view of most NASCAR drivers — that they are “Good Ol’ Boys” from the Deep South, and that they couldn’t form a complete sentence to save their lives.  Newman, in fact is one of the most articulate and thoughtful drivers on tour, and sees a direct relationship between that and his success with his team.

“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,” Newman said. “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.”

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