NASCAR Media Conference
May 12, 2009
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR cam video teleconference in advance of this weekend's events at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Joining us today from the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, is Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army/Haas Automation Chevrolet. Ryan comes into Saturday night's 25th anniversary NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race eighth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. He has come off three straight weeks of top-five finishes. And the All-Star Race, of course, is a non-points event and one where Ryan has excelled. He won the 2002 race as a rookie. And another reminder: Ryan's pit crew will be among the 24 that will compete in Thursday's fifth annual NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge presented by Craftsman there in Charlotte. He will compete in Friday night's Camping World Series event for Kevin Harvick, Incorporated.
Ryan, who do you think is the person to beat on Saturday night?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, the thing that's got my eye is this Pit Crew Challenge. My wife's actually going to drive the U.S. Army Chevrolet. It's going to be interesting to see, number one, if she can see over the steering wheel, number two, if she can hold a straight line, and most important if she can hit the brake pedal at the end of the straightaway after the guys push her. That's what got my eye coming this weekend.
DENISE MALOOF: I think that's a pretty good start there. We'll all be cheering Krissie on.
RYAN NEWMAN: Seriously, it's a big weekend. The All-Star Race is huge in our eyes because it's the All-Star Race, and it's in our backyard, everybody's backyard. It's all about bragging rights. We're all about beating each other at our own game at home field, I guess you would say. Our U.S. Army Chevrolet has been pretty strong the last few weeks and we're looking forward to having a good run and learning some things we can apply to the more important weekend in the grand scheme of things, the Coca-Cola 600.
DENISE MALOOF: We'll now go to questions for today's guest
Q. Jeff Burton said last week he thought the driving particularly at Richmond had become more aggressive than he's seen in a long time. Have you noticed that, too? If so, why?
RYAN NEWMAN: I'd say it's a little bit more aggressive. I think that the car has lent itself to go a little bit more aggressive. Used to be that was where you saw some retaliation with the old style car at Richmond. A guy would accidentally get a guy loose, or a guy would jack his bumper off the ground, later in the race you'd see the retaliation. Now the way the bumper is aligned, it's been more I guess physically violent at times, cars bouncing off each other, a little bit of a bumper car mentality at times than there have been in the past. So I think that's where part of that comes from.
I wouldn't say it's a hundred percent more of what it was. I'd say it's just maybe 10, 15 percent more.
Q. Do you feel like young drivers especially that didn't grow up in the age when the cars weren't quite as safe have more of a bulletproof-type attitude where they feel they can take more chances?
RYAN NEWMAN: I mean, there's always going to be a percentage of the drivers that feel or drive that way. But I'd say even with this new car, watching Michael McDowell's crash at Texas, my crash with Carl Edwards at Talladega, it's still plenty dangerous. If you are not conscious of that, then you're not conscious of a lot of things in life.
Q. Given the technical alliance between Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas, do you consider the Hendrick guys to be almost like unofficial teammates? And why or why not?
RYAN NEWMAN: I personally feel, I'm pretty sure Tony personally feels, that they're unofficial teammates. I mean, even to an extent you could consider them official teammates, in a different way. We at Stewart-Haas use Hendrick engines and Hendrick chassis. We hang our own bodies on our cars. 66% of what we do of the entire package I guess you could say, the bulk of the package with our racecar that we take to the racetrack, is built at Hendrick Motorsports. Without a doubt, there's 66% of those people over at Hendrick Motorsports that are our teammates in a roundabout way. I feel Jeff, Jimmie and Mark and Junior are great drivers, I consider them teammates in the essence I don't want to put myself in jeopardy to put them in jeopardy.
Q. There are pros to that kind of arrangement. Are there any cons to that kind of arrangement from the aspect that is somebody else that you have to maybe worry about on the track, not causing a problem?
RYAN NEWMAN: I'd say looking at the grand scheme of things, the only con would be you're competing against your own equipment, in which you still have the opportunity to beat those guys. And we look at it that way. Every other team is the same way. You have so many variables in your performance. There's many tools you can use to beat the competition. When you have a similarity with Hendrick Motorsports, you want to tie those things together that you can make positive, be it the chassis and engine part of it, what we do with our setups and the technology we share.
At the same time we separate ourselves a little bit from a competitive standpoint and do what we can to be different to be better. That's what they do. That's what we do. That's what makes us stronger within the six cars.
Q. Everyone talks about how much Hendrick has helped Stewart-Haas. In what ways do you feel Stewart-Haas may have actually helped Hendrick?
RYAN NEWMAN: I think there's been a couple racetracks this year where Tony has had the best racecar. There's been a couple tracks this year where I had a really good racecar in practice. I'm sure they look at our notes just as we look at their notes so that there's a true two-way street there, the essence of sharing information, making it a performance gain for both organizations to be united.
Q. Last year when you made the announcement you were going to Stewart-Haas Racing, it seemed like a bit of a gamble to leave a team like Penske. Are you surprised it's paying off so soon?
RYAN NEWMAN: I'd say anybody that moves or changes positions, changes organizations, it's a gamble either way. It's a gamble if you stay, it's a gamble if you leave. That was kind of a wash in my eyes. It was a matter of being positive and moving forward with Stewart-Haas Racing, the U.S. Army Chevrolet, to do what I needed to do to get to Victory Lane and be in a better position than if I would have stayed.
I said before the season started I was happy with my move. After moving up to eighth in points now, I guess you could almost stay I'm ecstatic, but I know there's more room to gain and things we can do to become a better and stronger team.
Q. Both you and Tony have been running pretty good as a team. Both of you seem to get along pretty good together. Maybe down the road deep inside of you, is there that burning desire to win a race before Tony, the boss, does?
RYAN NEWMAN: Oh, absolutely. I would love to do that, you know, for the same reasons he wants to do that. In the grand scheme of things, we're doing our best each week and moving up in the points. All those things are great. But that victory is what we're all looking for at Stewart-Haas Racing. It really doesn't matter to me, kind of contradicting myself, it doesn't matter who wins first, I want to be the one who wins first, but it doesn't matter who wins first because I feel we're one as a team within the organization. The guys at the shop I would say are the same way. We all want to win for ourselves, but we also want to win for the organization.
Q. I wondered about your expectations going into the season and if they've changed now that you're running top 10 and getting top fives each week. Do you now look at it as, I have as good a shot as anybody of challenging for a championship? Would that have been the mindset going in?
RYAN NEWMAN: My mindset going in I'd say was very positive to the point that I thought then that we were capable of doing what we're doing now, you know, the first three races, which is top fives.
Our vehicles haven't changed. All the things we're doing with the cars I wouldn't say has changed. I think we've progressed as a team to get where we are now. I think that Tony Gibson is doing a great job. Bobby Hutchins, Matt, everybody back at the shop are doing a great job, obviously in addition to what the people at Hendrick are working on.
I have to say that I haven't really graded myself on my expectations, but I would say that we've finally got to the point where I'm happy racing the way we are and that we're putting ourself in a position to win. I told the guys after Richmond on the radio, We keep doing what we're doing, we're going to get what we want. That was the bottom line.
Q. How realistic is it now to think you can make a run at the championship?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, right now it's realistic. I mean, we've come off a string of three top fives in a row. We're eighth in points. All the signs say we're capable of doing it. But we have to maintain that. It's not just three races. We have, whatever it is, 14 races or 15 races before the Chase starts. Then you've got to dominate in those 10 races. We've seen the last couple years between Jeff and Jimmie how tight that battle can be. There's no guarantees to winning a championship anymore. Not that there ever was, but it's definitely come more competitive.
Q. What have you learned about Tony that you didn't know about him?
RYAN NEWMAN: I never realized how in depth and in tune Tony was with the business world from just the situations that we deal with, how personal he is with the sponsors. There's definitely a softer side of Tony Stewart than what most people get to see on TV. The things that he does off the racetrack, away from the sport, how generous he is.
Q. NASCAR is one of the few sports leagues where a suspension based on the drug testing policy isn't appealable. Are you okay with that as a driver, and why or why not?
RYAN NEWMAN: You said it isn't appealable?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I never really thought about it a whole lot. I never put myself in a position. But I guess based on the way your question's asked, I should consider it because if I wasn't guilty, I guess you could say, that I would want to have a way to appeal it. That's a tough question to answer without thinking about it a whole lot. I'd say everybody really wants to have the opportunity to prove their innocence even when they're found guilty, but at the same time you're given the opportunity to be innocent before you're found guilty. In this situation, it's a little different. It's a chemical test, not a judgment of character. I guess there's two different ways of looking at that.
Q. Do you think NASCAR drivers could benefit from some sort of union, other leagues have Players Associations, or not really?
RYAN NEWMAN: I don't think we need a union. I know at one time there was a union that was formed. I think it was kind of abolished in more ways than one. Like I said, I don't think it's needed. I think that our ultimate job and responsibility is to deliver entertainment to the fans in the form of driving racecars around. A union is not needed for that. A union may be needed for the things that go along with it from the political standpoint, just off-the-racetrack standpoint as far as the things we do now that aren't even considered a part of racing, but are considered part of the sport I guess you could say. There's two different ways of looking at it. But I don't think it's needed. I'm sure that some people want it, and I know it has been wanted in the past.
Q. About not feeling well when racing, like you did in Darlington, fans can call in sick, I can work from home, what is your philosophy about working sick? Have you had other experience with that in the past?
RYAN NEWMAN: As far as driving the racecar?
RYAN NEWMAN: I've been sick and nauseated a few times. Darlington I didn't feel real well from Friday night all the way into Saturday afternoon. I'm not sure if I was dehydrated more than I thought I was. I know I didn't eat a whole lot. When I ate on Friday, I ate a ton of fruit. I know that was probably not the best thing to do because I think it sat and tried to turn into a tree inside of me it felt like. I just was kind of nauseated and didn't feel well. About lap 150 on Saturday night, I just had cold chills in the back of my neck. I just felt nauseated. Had to put those things out of my mind.
That's the easiest thing I guess when you're driving a racecar, is the adrenaline takes over. You only think about it under the caution flags. It probably affects you a little bit, but at least when you're under green. Your mind really focuses on it when the pace slows down. You're thinking about how thirsty you are, what you should have ate before you got in the car.
Q. As far as options go, it seems like you have fewer because of the situation with your responsibilities, things that maybe the rest of the public don't have to put up with?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, yeah. I mean, that's part of being an athlete, in my opinion. I'm not a huge sports fan. I remember the playoff game with Michael Jordan when he was playing for the Bulls, how sick he was, ill, definitely how ill he was, and how well he performed that night. The bottom line is you just have to let your abilities and adrenaline overcome that. It's humanly possible. Sometimes it's considered an act of some kind of character. Bottom line is it's your job to put on the show for the fans and the people, whether it's your sponsors. You go out there and you do it. I guess that part of the athlete separates you from the general public, yes.
Q. Can poor team chemistry adversely affect a race team?
RYAN NEWMAN: Absolutely.
Q. Could you elaborate?
RYAN NEWMAN: To the Nth degree. It's tough to explain. It's like the behind-the-scenes reaction to each other that takes you to the next level of success. That lack of chemistry or the wrong chemistry, at the same time, can dissolve you, dissolve your ability to work together, dissolve your ability to be positive, have the right mood and emotions to be able to conquer your task.
That chemistry is super important not just between the driver and the crew chief or the driver and the right front tire changer, but everybody on the team. And then, secondly, and sometimes more importantly, that team versus your other teammates, your other parts of the organization, the guys in the fab shop have to get along with the guys in the engine shop, and they have to at least sometimes tolerate the guys in the pit crew. They don't see each other a lot, but that chemistry and that ability to work together in those conditions for the organization is extremely important.
Q. Whose job ultimately do you think it is on a team, who does it fall to make sure there is good and solid team chemistry?
RYAN NEWMAN: I believe the general manager, the team owner, the competition director, those are the guys that typically hire the people that are responsible for mixing in the right chemistry. There's type A and there's type B people. There's people that have multi-personalities. There's a lot of things out there with all the different medications you can take nowadays, all the side effects you can get. It's those people's responsibility to get the right chemistry or the right potential for chemistry, to let that chemistry develop within an organization.
Q. This weekend there's a massive importance placed on the pit crews, both for the Pit Crew Challenge and the qualifying itself. Have you done anything to pump up your crew and get them into it?
RYAN NEWMAN: Honestly, from my standpoint, we've struggled a little bit on pit road. Last week was definitely better than Richmond. But we've not been typically a top-10 team this year in pit stops, our performance on pit road on Saturdays and Sundays. It's important for us obviously for the All-Star Race and for the Pit Crew Challenge to get those things right.
But those guys are working on it, I know they are. I know what they're doing. I know that they've progressed and gotten better throughout the entire season. It would mean a ton to them and to me personally for them to go out and be a top team in the All-Star Race, qualifying effort, as well as for sure the Pit Crew Challenge.
Q. I'm interested to know, Tony Gibson is from Daytona Beach, and you had a really rough start. I imagine he's in a better mood these days that the team is running. Can you talk about how the season's progressed for you and him.
RYAN NEWMAN: I would say one of the great things about Tony is his mood never did change. He knew what we were going through was just tough times, and that happens in racing. Part of that is things that you have to fix as a team or as an organization. And he and other people have done those things.
His mentality has been great the entire season. He's been a true leader, doing a lot of great things to make us progress, make us into a better team and organization each week. I'm proud of him and what he's done. Not to say he's the only one, but he is the quarterback of the team, so he makes a big difference and he's done a great job.
Q. Is your team or are you involved in this Internet social networking now? Are you Twittering people and Facebooking people?
RYAN NEWMAN: I personally have people who are helping me with that. We're just getting into that stuff. I'm not a hundred percent sold on it. I'm not sure that that's all the right things we need to do. I know that's part of the real world right now. We'll just see what happens.
Q. Are you going to accept media as friends?
RYAN NEWMAN: Have I ever (laughter)? I'm sure they'll be considered, yes. I don't know how all that stuff works, to be honest with you. I don't know how to give you a true, honest answer, outside of the fact that I know that we just started doing that within Ryan Newman Motorsports, our group. Like I said, I have people helping me with it. I'm not sitting there doing it personally every time, but it's always the truth and stuff we're working on.
Q. I know your focus is on this season, so you probably don't want to answer. We had Tony on earlier in the season and discussed the possibility of expanding in the future. He said he wouldn't even consider it until he was convinced both the two teams could contend for a championship. You're both in position at this point. What are your thoughts about the possibility of adding a third or fourth team after this season? If the organization does go in that direction, are there any drivers you'd like to see brought onboard?
RYAN NEWMAN: You got a loaded question there 'cause we're 11 races in or 12 races, whatever, before we ever get to the Chase. We're not even halfway to the point we can decide if we're championship contenders.
To answer your next question, if we were championship contenders after 26 race, then we'd consider what's going on around us environmentally as far as what drivers and teams and situations are available, what the potential is, if it was still even the right thing that Stewart-Haas wanted to do.
I feel I have a say in part of that because I'm a teammate. I know Tony has respect for me with respect to that. It's pretty premature to answer the in depth part of that question.
DENISE MALOOF: Thanks to all the media who participated in today's call. Ryan, thank you very much. Good luck to you this weekend and also to Krissie.
RYAN NEWMAN: Thank you, Denise. I'll let her know.
DENISE MALOOF: We will see all of you back again next week.
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