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Friday, December 16, 2011

It will be Stewart-Haas Racing's championship to lose in 2012

Tony Stewart's new ride
Image by sidehike via Flickr
Never mind what I said about Denny Hamlin kicking butt in 2012. This time I will make a prediction--sthe Sprint Cup will stay in the possession of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2012!

I was pretty pumped about Championship Crew Chief Darian Grubb's move to Joe Gibbs Racing as Crew Chief for Denny Hamlin. But now, I take it all back after reading this little tidbit: Greg Zipadelli Named Competition Director for Stewart-Haas Racing, reported this morning. This changes the whole scenario in my mind.

This puts all the pieces of the puzzle in place; the stars are aligned; it's karma! Tony Stewart's success with Zippy was almost legendary. Now with the two former teammates back on the same team, it will be a beautiful thing to watch. Steve Addington as Stewart's new Crew Chief, with his obvious talent will round out the championship-in-the-making potential.

English: Stewart-Haas pit crew working on car ...
Image via Wikipedia
Waiting in the wings to make Stewart-Haas Racing the team of the year is its other potential winner--the other (full-time) half of Stewart-Haas Racing. Ryan Newman has been way under-appreciated, though not by me. I've been in his corner for years and plan to stay right there--one day soon with the ability to say, "I told you so!" Newman and Tony Gibson have been on an up and down ride, but I expect to see lots more ups this season.

While discussing former teammates let us not forget that Matt Borland, who temporarily filled the position Zipadelli will now occupy, was once Newman's Crew Chief at Penske Racing. The two were wildly successful in 2003 with eight wins and 11 poles. I'm ready to see that again.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Denny Hamlin, the one to watch in ‘12

Denny Hamlin
Image by RiverRatt3 via Flickr
I just heard that Championship Crew Chief Darian Grubb will be Denny Hamlin’s Crew Chief at Joe Gibbs Racing next year.

While I’m not making any predictions, I believe this could put Hamlin right where he wants to be at the 2012 season’s end.
Hamlin has surprised me in the last couple years. For some reason I still think of Hamlin as one of the new kids on the block, though he certainly hasn’t performed like a new kid.

I admit I wasn’t even real fond of Denny until he started drafting with Ryan Newman at Daytona and Talladega. Anybody who works with Ryan is OK in my eyes. I’m a fan, what can I say?

I sure hope Tony Stewart doesn’t have regrets at the end of the next season at the hands of his former Crew Chief and former team mate. No predictions on champions, but I do see this as a happy marriage, so to speak.

I believe Denny will be a force to be reckoned with this year, even though my heart still belongs to Stewart-Haas Racing. Winking smile

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Friday, December 9, 2011

NASCAR--time for a reality check

English: 1bms07_032407_seqn1BMS07 018W_jpg.jpg...
Image via Wikipedia
I’m so sick of political-correctness, fantasy, and lack of reality!

This whole Kurt Busch thing—let’s call it what it was—Busch was canned by Roger Penske. I admit I was shocked that Penske burned that bridge completely. No doubt Kurt Busch was angling for some kind of disciplinary action, but I admit that firing a capable race car driver who can drive for a bad attitude is rather like missing a shift. This isn’t a beauty pageant where points are awarded for poise and grace. It is about racing. Kurt Busch turned some dismal days into good race results. Attitude shouldn’t be a number one concern. Penske knew Busch was temperamental when he hired him. Busch’s tirades should not have been a surprise.

Still, it is not how Penske runs his company that bothers me. It is the total dishonesty surrounding it. How stupid do they think we are?

NASCAR and apparently everyone associated with it systemically has a way of manipulating reality, or at least trying to, so that everything looks rosy all the time. That isn’t how life works! While they boast about how NASCAR is all about the fans and people have more access to drivers and teams than in any other sport. Yet the attempt to obscure any perceived unpleasantries has a heavier smoke screen than a victory burnout. Don’t they think we can handle it? Are they afraid their actions will cause us to rip up race tickets and turn off the television?

I hate to tell them, but nothing turns fans off faster than dishonesty.

Tell it like it really is

Penske didn’t just part ways with Busch; the two didn’t just split up as headlines stated. Penske fired him. The ramifications of that are so much more serious than a parting of the ways.

Roger Penske has said little if anything about firing Kurt Busch. I think we would all understand if The Captain looked right at the camera or into the eyes of a print reporter and said Kurt Busch was impossible to deal with, so I fired him. We would all have understood.

Or perhaps Penske could have said, Shell Oil issued an ultimatum. If Busch stays, they are out. We would have understood that too.

If Penske’s decision was made because of the sponsor, that would play right into the corporate-America-calling-all-the-shots scenario. That is perhaps even more troublesome than this being Penske’s decision alone, but that is another story for another day.

Then there is Busch’s lame performance on video where he portrays himself as a businessman trying to decide which career path to choose. That isn’t real either, especially since he is the same guy we saw verbally assault Jerry Punch during an interview at Homestead. Where is the believability?

On so many levels, this story has been upsetting, not the least of which is that no matter what the reality of the situation, Kurt Busch let his bad behavior potentially doom a promising career. Busch, is after all, a past champion in the sport we all care about.

I feel for him and wish him well. Perhaps he does need to seek professional help for anger management. And, he should take his brother with him. It would be a shame to waste this incredible talent. I just hope it isn’t too late.

My New Year’s Resolution for NASCAR in 2012 is in the form of a reality check.
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Friday, December 2, 2011

NASCAR awards then a long lull til Speed Weeks

English: Las Vegas Strip
Image via Wikipedia
So we are about to enter our second week of the infamous NASCAR Spring Cup Series off-season. This is so painful.

At least we have the awards ceremony to look forward to. I'm writing this just hours before we see our favorite drivers and teams all gussied up in their black tuxedos. DeLana Harvick just tweeted that she isn't a 'glammed' up kinda girl. I can relate to that.

I don't know how many enjoy the awards ceremony, but I certainly do. Reba McIntyre will host it. At least she has the right accent for NASCAR jokes. Some of the others over the years just aren't believable. Reba will be believable.

Trouble is, the show tonight should be just enough to whet the appetites of us aficionados for some on track action. Won't we be disappointed when there is no qualifying or practice tomorrow? Then comes Sunday. No Race Day after CBS Sunday Morning. No Pre-race interviews. No race at all.

I suppose we should be cognizant of the fact that all our favorite drivers are finally getting some rest and relaxation after their long week in Las Vegas and the long season of racing drama.

What a dramatic season it was too, especially toward the end with Brad Kezelowski's secret fine, Kyle Bush's meltdown, Kurt Bush's not-so-secret fine, Rick Hendricks' plane crash, sponsorship changes, not to mention Tony Stewart's incredible chase dominance and kick-ass championship win as well as Champion Crew Chief Darian Grubb's departure from Stewart-Haas Racing.

Las Vegas week had its spectacles too, like Jeff Gordon break-dancing, Ryan Newman blowing up his engine, and the winning teams playing the Newlywed game. Wish I could have been there for those moments.

Since the season ended at Homestead, there has been enough news to satisfy our NASCAR fix. But that will likely halt now. Drivers and teams will move on to their long-awaited vacation plans. They will enjoy themselves without having to worry about speeding on pit road, kowtowing to sponsors, or smiling for cameras. There will likely be what might amount to a NASCAR news blackout.

I suppose we, the devoted fans will simply have to wait, cross off days on the calendar through December, January, and most of February until speed week finally rolls around. Won't that be a happy day? I suppose that since it is the holidays and we do have family obligations to tend to, not to mention all the household chores we didn't do during the season, the time will fly, as it always does. But like vision, it is so much easier in hindsight.
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Booing the First Lady, shameful behavior

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait.
Image via Wikipedia

The only dark spot in Sunday's final NASCAR race at Homestead was the deplorable behavior by some NASCAR fans who felt it necessary to boo the First Lady of the United States.

It was appalling that NASCAR fans would be so rude and obnoxious as to boo Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, especially when they were at the race track to honor military families. Helping military families is one of the causes the two have taken up. Not only that, but prior to performing her duties as grand marshall along with Dr. Biden and a veteran and his family, Obama spoke highly of NASCAR as a family-oriented activity. She said all the right things. She gets it. What is wrong with some people?

NASCAR fans claim to be all about the military and patriotism, yet to boo Michelle Obama was an embarrassment to this country and to the rest of us who call ourselves fans. Why wasn’t Michelle Obama afforded the same courtesy and respect that years ago were given to Ronald Reagan when he attended a NASCAR race? NASCAR spokesmen fawn all over themselves about that event.

If NASCAR CEO Brian France wonders why NASCAR is losing interest, perhaps this type of behavior by NASCAR supporters could offer a hint. Perhaps France ought to realize that his diversity program isn’t really all that diverse when the stereotypical NASCAR fan is still perceived as a redneck, right-wing, beer-drinking, wife-beater.

Why haven’t I read an apology from NASCAR officials yet? Perhaps they will raise the price of a ticket next year—their way of levying a ‘secret fine’ to fans for behavior disrespectful of the brand.

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Add my voice to the chorus of Tony Stewart fans

Tony Stewart winsIt is probably not possible to uniquely express my adoration for the way Tony Stewart won the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship after witnessing his performance Sunday at Homestead. My voice blends into the loud chorus of NASCAR fans who thoroughly enjoyed the final race of the 2011 season, which is arguably the best race ever.

Everything about the race was pure joy, including the rain delays that only served to tease us into simply wanting more.

There could have been no better finale to this season, unless of course if Ryan Newman would have taken the checkered flag, Stewart came in second, and Edwards around fifth or so, but forgive my fantasy.

The reality is that Tony Stewart earned every accolade afforded to him as the new Sprint Cup Champion. His driving was perfection, as he passed 118 cars on his way to victory. Is that unprecedented? It has to be, though I have no idea. It certainly is not something I’ve witnessed since I first tuned into NASCAR in 2002. It was an amazing feat. It was even more so when considering this was Stewart’s fifth win in the ten-race season finale. To say that luck was on his side, is just woefully inadequate.

Stewart showed a kind of confidence that I have not seen before. He was determined to win his third championship, and he did it. Stewart’s jovial, devilish personality certainly adds to the charm of his win, at least in my opinion. As the Champion—a three-time Champion--perhaps NASCAR will listen when he speaks.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads my blog that Stewart-Haas Racing is my favorite team. For Tony Stewart to carry on the tradition of driver/winner owner started by Richard Petty and continued with Alan Kulwicki in 1992 is just one more cause for celebration. Stewart has so many reasons to be proud.

Darian Grubb
Tire Change
Image via Flickr
It was a shock to learn in post-race interviews that Stewart's Crew Chief Darian Grubb was fired prior to the Chase for the Championship and this was perhaps his final race as Crew Chief for the #14.

I find it difficult to believe that any perceivable sins during the regular season would not be forgiven after such a formidable performance that resulted in Stewart's team winning five times out of the last ten races. Stewart has said over-and-over that the wins were a result of teamwork. Therefore, I cannot imagine that new talks won't result in a new contract for Grubb in 2012.

If for some reason that doesn't happen, I'm sure he will have no problem finding some other championship caliber team to take him on

Kudos to Carl Edwards
Shot by The Daredevil at Daytona during Speedw...
Image via Wikipedia
Carl Edwards deserves recognition for his conduct, both during and after the race. It had to be devastating for him to finish second after working so hard. Though he was clearly out-driven by Stewart, and he knew it, he  drove an exemplary race underscored by his showing a lot of class in the way that he accepted his fate as the number-two driver. Edwards can certainly hold his head up high for his performance in Sunday’s race. He made no mistakes. He started out front and pretty much stayed there for the entire race.

It is painful to think of the Sunday afternoon void until once again the engines crank for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26. The off-season is always a sad time, even though the time goes by quickly.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

A very good day for Stewart-Haas Racing

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 15: Tony Stewart talks...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeSunday’s race at Phoenix did not disappoint. The race for the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship remains unchanged—tight--with just three points separating Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart; Kasey Kahne celebrates an end to his long winless streak in Victory Lane; Ryan Newman made nice with Lady Luck, as she allowed him to turn a dismal 30th place start into a top-5 finish.

I cannot think of a better result from the unknown that was the newly-configured PIR (Phoenix International Raceway). It was certainly a good day for Stewart-Haas Racing. The only negative was when Brian Vickers apparently intentionally wrecked pole sitter Matt Kenseth. Vickers has been nothing but a hazard during this Chase for the Championship. Kenseth deserved better.

Chase needs tweaking

Stewart and Edwards ran a good race, finishing as they started, three points apart. Stewart remains three points behind Edwards, despite his running a better race, leading the most laps. In truth, Stewart should be in the lead, sporting four wins in the 8-race Chase for the Championship. Edwards’ has not won a race during the Chase. His only saving grace was a win during the regular season, which caused him to start ahead of Stewart. Edwards was more consistent, since Stewart had a couple of bad finishes that hurt him. But, with two instances of back-to-back wins in the final eight, Stewart should be far ahead. Perhaps more points should be awarded for winning a title race.

Newman and pit road

Newman had no glitches on pit road to contend with at Phoenix. That made all the difference. Even with the handling of his race car being a tad inconsistent, Newman did a great job passing cars and wracking up points. It is just too bad that cannot be said for previous Chase races. Pit road blunders really cost Newman. I’m certain that will be a big topic for post-season. There has to be improvement before the 2012 season begins.

Speaking of pit road, what’s with Brad Keselowski?

After last week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski complained that Ryan Newman intentionally blocked him in his pit stall. Scene Daily reported the story Keselowski had to back up to get back onto the track. In doing so, he ran into Denny Hamlin’s car.

Keselowski blamed Newman because he, Keselowski ran into Hamlin while backing out of his pit stall. Huh? Basically Keselowski blamed Newman for intentionally blocking him because Newman’s teammate/owner Tony Stewart is running is in the hunt for the championship. Newman admitted blocking Keselowski, but said he had to pull in at the angle he did to keep from hitting Keselowski’s jack man. Keselowski also intimated that Newman deliberately picked the #2 pit stall in front of his, to hamper his chance at the championship. Keselowski was angry that “the #39 (Newman) played the team orders card in the Chase.”

Newman’s Crew Chief Tony Gibson explained that they were surprised that pit stall was available. They qualified 24th and pickings were slim.

Keselowski’s charge was ridiculous and insulting.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Way to go Tony!

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 06:  Texas Motor Spe...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Not only do I appreciate Tony Stewart’s superb driving ability, but there is also something to be said for his strong will. He set out to win NASCAR’s Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. And he pulled it off, darned near, flawlessly. I have a sneaking suspicion that his desire to win the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship might just work for him as well. At least that is my hope.

Tony win was about the only redeeming quality of the race Sunday. It was certainly not action-packed by any means. Passing was difficult. There were few instances of side-by-side racing, few cautions broke up the single file driving, and once again the thrill of the race was trumped by the strategy of the crew rather than abilities of the drivers.

Tony’s winning made it worthwhile, however. His taking the checkered flag in four races during the chase is a spectacular feat, especially with his winless regular season. Talk about peaking at just the right time—oh yeah. Smoke is on it!

Carl Edwards certainly did a yeoman’s job Sunday as well. He almost pulled off the win himself. He managed to stay three points ahead of Stewart in the points race, which is nothing to sneeze at. Suffice it to say that the two of them going at it during the remainder of the 2011 season, with just two races left to go, will be great fun to watch.

Tony’s teammate

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 07:  Ryan Newman, drive...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeBeing a diehard Ryan Newman fan, I wasn’t looking forward to this race. The stars have just not been aligned for Newman toward the latter part of this season. His chances for a great run at Texas seemed especially slim after qualifying and practice when Newman’s car failed to clock the speeds necessary to compete in the top ten all day.

Then there was that mysterious vibration that turned out to be a lug nut lodged between the tire and the wheel that caused Newman to have to pit twice under green. At only the 50th lap, he was already two laps down. He struggled all day. Finally getting back onto the lead lap during the nearly caution-free race was nothing short of miraculous. To eek out a 16th place finish under all those circumstances was really
pretty remarkable.

I’m not so sure what has happened to Ryan’s team, however. It seems that during every race there are pit stop problems or bad calls that result in improper balance. I know Newman isn’t happy. I know his fans aren’t happy. Newman is far better than what shows up in the race results.

Phoenix is a good track for him, though. I’m still hoping for a good ending to this season.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Danica Patrick reveals 2012 Sprint Cup plans; will honor Dan Wheldon Saturday

Andretti Autosport's Danica Patrick at the 201...Image via Wikipedia
On to Feb. 26, 2012, where there will now be three drivers to root for at Stewart-Haas Racing at the 2012 Daytona 500.

In addition to Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick has announced that she will start the 2012 season with a limited Sprint Cup schedule in the #10 GoDaddy car, beginning at Daytona.

Patrick will also be driving full time in the Nationwide Series in 2012. Won’t it be fascinating to watch this capable  woman racing in a stock car? She will start by running the last three races of this year’s Nationwide season, just to get additional seat time before her season officially begins.

Patrick will contribute to Dan Wheldon’s Memorial Trust Fund

Patrick said today, “she will be happy to have a roof over her head,” referring to the open-cockpit cars of the IndyCar series she is leaving behind. The last race Patrick drove, which had been her plan, was the season finale at Las Vegas Oct. 16. That race was cut short after the horrific 15-car crash that claimed the life of two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon.

In this Saturday’s race at Texas, Patrick will honor Wheldon with a special paint scheme on the hood of her Nationwide car. It will bear the same image that Wheldon wore on his helmet.

Her helmet will also be specially designed to pay tribute to Wheldon. Following the race Patrick's helmet will be auctioned off. The proceeds will go to the Dan Wheldon Memorial Trust Fund. Patrick will also donate her prize winnings from Saturday’s race to the fund.

The fund was started when Graham Rahal donated his helmet to be raffled off in what he thought would be a small gesture to benefit Wheldon’s widow and their two young sons. When Rahal announced his intentions on Twitter the response from the motor sports community was overwhelming. In three days, more than $200,000 was raised. Since that time, the fund has continued to grow.
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Monday, October 31, 2011

Martinsville wreckfest; Stewart drives like a champion

Tony StewartTony Stewart (Image via word of the day for Sunday’s race at Martinsville is “wreckless.” The word refers to some of the drivers, not the race itself, which was far from wreck free. There was plenty of action on the track in the form of torn up race cars, rumpled fenders, and shredded tires.

For some reason the names Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Brian Vickers come to mind. What was up with the wreckfest? It seems that each time there was an incident, one of them was involved. In my opinion, it was the result of a bad attitude and/or lack of talent. Much of it was totally unnecessary, not that I minded a little extra racing action. It was an action-packed race, but then it is a short track after all.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, congratulations to Tony Stewart.

What an awesome display of driving prowess. It was so good to see him beat Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps. He certainly worked hard for the excellent result.

Johnson was praised by commentators for class in the way he raced Stewart without wrecking him. From what I could see, Jimmie Johnson didn’t race Stewart any different than any of the other drivers out there. Johnson nudged Stewart’s car several times. A driver with less skill could easily have lost it, but Stewart knows how to handle his race car.

I would say that simply put, Tony Stewart exhibited championship ability on Sunday. With his third win, it will be exciting to watch the final three races. Carl Edwards has been consistent, but Stewart has been stellar. The championship at this point, is Stewart’s to lose.
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Monday, October 24, 2011

Talladega bites Newman again

NASCAR driver Ryan Newman slips into the Army ...Image via WikipediaIts Talladega, a wildcard race 

Once again, high hopes were dashed at Talladega for Ryan Newman. 

At least the drama surrounding the crash that ruined his day was minimal, with all four wheels still on the ground, thank goodness. 

The race started out so promising, with Newman and Tony Stewart working together and leading laps. They seemingly figured out how to make it all work. Who would have thought that a mistake by the boss man would ruin Ryan's day? 

Newman's quick short-cut from one end of the track to the other after being nudged in just the wrong way by Stewart, resulted in so much front end damage. Newman didn't even hit anything. But, what a mess! Leave it to Newman's rocky relationship with Lady Luck to screw up his day. 

Race Buddy

One of the positives about watching the race this weekend was Race Buddy. It was nice to see Race Buddy back on ESPN after it wasn't excluded from last week's coverage on ABC. Race Buddy is a real enhancement to enjoying the race, especially one at Talladega. It is sometimes difficult to follow a specific driver, who doesn't happen to be the ever-popular Dale Earnhardt, Jr. no matter where he is on the track and who is talked about incessantly by commentators. I really Race Buddy allowing me to enjoy enjoyed riding with Tony Stewart as he pushed his teammate to the lead several times. The varied camera angles make watching racing much more enjoyable. I hold my breath though, with the hope that this service remains consistent and free. 

NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer in August 2007 at B...Image via WikipediaCongratulations to Clint Bowyer,...

While the last lap of the race was stellar, and it was great to see Clint Bowyer win again, the racing at Talladega leaves lots to be desired. Tandem running really isn't racing. For drivers to have to rely on other drivers to achieve success at this track, taking their own driving prowess out of their own hands, just doesn't seem right. 

That isn't to say that parts of the race weren't exciting. I have to admit that I enjoyed much of the race, even though it was a very different kind of enjoyment. It is certainly an improvement over the single-file stay-in-the-back-until-the-end kind of racing it used to be. But, it would be nice to watch drivers back in control of their own destiny. 

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ryan Newman to be inducted into Talladega-Texaco Walk of Fame

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 02:  Ryan Newman, dr...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Congratulations Ryan Newman.

Racing fans selected Ryan Newman as the latest honree into the Davey Allison Memorial/Talladega-Texaco Walk of Fame on Saturday, Oct. 22.

Newman will join NASCAR’s elite drivers, and at the same time pay tribute to the late Davey Allison, for which a huge memorial is built in the walk of fame park built in the summer of 1994. Allison, the son of legendary driver Bobby Allison, was killed in a helicopter crash in the infield of the race track in 1993.

The park, which covers one entire city block in downtown Talladega, is in the shape of Talladega Super Speedway. Its walkways mimic the race track. The memorial to Davey Allison is a huge marble monument.
In addition to Davey Allison, the first inductees into the walk of fame, are those of NASCAR’s “Alabama gang,”--Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Red Farmer, and Neil Bonnett.

Each year, an active driver is nominated by fans, along with up to two inactive drivers. Along with Newman the late Alfred “Speedy” Thompson was also nominated for this year’s honor.

Newman, 33, is not your ordinary NASCAR driver. A graduate of Indiana’s Purdue University, Newman not only has immense talent behind the wheel, he also has an in depth understanding of what a car is designed and built to do on the racetrack. It is that combination that has made him one of the most successful and respected figures in modern motorsports. After graduating from Purdue in 2001 with a degree in vehicle structure engineering, the South Bend, Ind., native followed his heart and his talent to the racetrack and NASCAR’s premiere division – the Sprint Cup Series. Known for his ability to qualify at the head of the class, Newman has scored at least one pole position in 11 consecutive seasons.

Newman’s biggest career victory came in February 2008 when he won the 50th Running of the Daytona 500 while driving for Penske Racing. Now driving the #39 for Stewart-Haas Racing, Newman has collected 47 poles and earned 15 victories. When not on track, the avid outdoorsman focuses his attention on the efforts of the Ryan Newman Foundation.

Inactive driver nominee, Alfred “Speedy" Thompson was one of the most successful drivers of the late 1950's.  He made 198 starts from 1950 – 1971, winning 20 races along with scoring 78 topfives, 106 top-tens, and 20 poles. Thompson passed away April 2, 1972.

Past active driver inductees have included Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Ernie Irvan, Dale Jarrett, Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Bobby Hamilton, Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin, Kyle Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Kevin Harvick,  Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Morgan Shepherd and Kasey Kahne. Richard Petty and Benny Parsons were the first inactive drivers to be inducted, later joined by Alan Kulwicki, Cale Yarborough, Ned Jarrett, Buddy Baker, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Harry Gant, Lee Petty, Tim Flock, Fireball Roberts, Buck Baker, Joe Weatherly, Red Byron, Bobby Isaac, Fred Lorenzen, Fonty Flock, Herb Thomas, Terry Labonte, Rex White, Jack Smith and Jim Paschal.

Walk of Fame drivers have bronze plaques placed around the park.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Uneasy about upcoming NASCAR Talladega race after death of IndyCar's Dan Wheldon

2008 Aaron's 499 at Talladega SuperspeedwayImage via WikipediaI’ve been unable until now to write about the IndyCar crash Sunday at Las Vegas that took the life of Dan Wheldon. Suffice it to say that for anyone with an interest in racing, this was an unspeakable tragedy. The loss of this young race car driver was just too tragic, almost to bear. My heart is broken for his family, his friends, and everyone who knew and loved him.

While I have not been an IndyCar follower, I certainly had heard of Dan Wheldon. I knew a little about his career and had admired the milk mustache he wore after his first Indianapolis 500 win, which seemingly came out of nowhere. His name and face were familiar.

I do follow NASCAR, closely. While there are a few differences between the two series, there are more than a few similarities.

NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship race comes to Talladega Motor Speedway Sunday. I admit that after watching the crash that took the life of Dan Wheldon, and seeing the entire racing community mourn his loss, I feel a little uneasy about this weekend’s race. Talladega usually always has some kind of drama attached to it. This year, to add to the unknowns, NASCAR has instituted new changes—opening up the carburetor restrictor plate—which will add horsepower. This may actually translate into safer racing, and a better race, which is its aim.

At Talladega, there is always talk about the “big one,” which might be defined as a nail-biting multi-car wreck involving major damage to numerous race cars. Drivers generally emerge from the crumpled metal relatively unscathed. But it is impossible to predict what will happen at this unpredictable track.

I will never forget 2009 at Talladega, both in the spring and the fall.

Ryan Newman is the driver I root for each week. Both his spring and fall races at Talladega in 2009 left images in my mind that I can’t forget.

In the spring, Carl Edwards’ car went airborne, crashing into Newman’s car. Pieces of Edwards’ car then went flying into the catch fence, injuring fans sitting on the other side. Little was said about Newman, who finished third, as usual, despite Newman who was racing for the win only to get a race car in his windshield. He went on to finish third.

Later that year, in the fall, Newman’s car was hit from behind. It went airborne, rolled several times, and landed on its hood. For a few gut-wrenching moments, there wasn’t a sound from Newman’s radio. He later explained that the antenna was knocked off the race car in the crash. When he was able to check in with Greg Newman, his father who was his spotter at the time. I think I forgot to breathe for a moment. Hearing him say he was OK brought a real sense of relief.

Newman is only one driver that has been victimized by on-track incidents at Talladega. So many others have been involved in similar incidents there as well. There is even a video about them all.

The danger in racing is palpable. I’m grateful that safety for drivers is a high concern in NASCAR. I hope some of that trickles down to IndyCar racing. And, I’ll be glad when Talladega concludes and hopeful that Newman has a good finish.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

My take on Ryan Newman at Charlotte

While a Top-10 finish for Ryan Newman wasn’t quite enough to put him back into championship contention, it was enough to put him in the right direction. Saturday’s race at Charlotte put an end to the downward spiral that was plaguing the #39 team.

Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Even so, I was hoping for just one more point so Newman could have risen two places in the points standings instead of just one. That was my personal goal for him while watching the race. I always want Newman to finish ahead of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in particular, because it would serve to level the playing field, just a little. On one hand, Newman is virtually ignored by the media and announcers. In fact, I have written about this observation in this blog, which received numerous comments. Apparently I’m not alone in my assessment. (See: Critics Just Don't Get Ryan Newman) In addition, I get really tired of hearing Junior this and Junior that as NASCAR announcers as well as NASCAR brass and friends of Earnhardt, Senior gush over any achievement, no matter how small by this favored driver. Not only is it not fair to the other drivers and other fans, but I don’t believe it is fair for all of them to put so much pressure on Dale, Jr. just because he is his father’s son and because he is viewed as some kind of NASCAR cash cow. I actually feel sorry for his being victimized by the added and unnecessary pressure.

Besides, I think Newman is a better race car driver. There, I’ve finally said it. Ryan Newman is a better driver than Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Take that Junior Nation, which I see as totally unrealistic.

Newman and Stewart

Newman looked unstoppable when the Chase for the Championship first began. His teammate and owner at Stewart-Haas Racing, Tony Stewart came from behind and won two consecutive races. When Stewart got the pole for the Charlotte race, I was almost convinced that he and Newman switched race cars. I figured it was time for Tony to give Ryan back his car. Just kidding. I know what a great race car driver Stewart is, at every level of racing. I am just such a Newman fan.

Newman and Jimmy Johnson

Finally, when Jimmy Johnson wrecked his race car 16 laps from the finish line at Charlotte, the place that used to be known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Jimmy Johnson’s House, I was worried that the media would wrongly blame Newman for harming Johnson’s chance to win a sixth championship. I am so glad for video, especially after hearing Johnson’s first words after emerging from the infield care center.

“We got into Turn 1, the 39 (of Ryan Newman) was tight to my outside, and pulled me around ... from there on I was just hanging on,” Johnson said.

No Jimmy, Newman didn’t pull you around. You lost it and got into Newman who was simply racing for the position. The tape showed exactly what happened. Five times or not, you can make a mistake…

I’m sure once he sees the tape, he will realize Newman did nothing wrong. I’m just grateful for video. The media got it right this time and saw that Johnson was simply trying to race Newman too hard, got loose, and lost the race car. It happens, even to a five-time champion.

So now, on to Talladega. Oh boy! I’m nervous and excited all at the same time. Anything can happen at Talladega, and usually does.
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Monday, October 10, 2011

Experiencing racing with Ryan Newman

KANSAS CITY, KS - JUNE 03:  Ryan Newman, drive...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeRooting for a particular driver adds a special dimension to race day. In my mind, it is the only way to really enjoy racing these days.

I’m not particularly enamored with racing at Kansas anyway, because frankly, they can get pretty boring, but especially with all of NASCAR’s technical intervention and ethanol-based fuel requirements that I feel have dulled the events.

Rarely is sheer speed the dominant factor in winning races these days. With NASCAR’s latest version of the race cars so closely competitive, racing has become much more strategic. Drivers are almost handicapped as teams have little competitive advantage over one another. Drivers are only one aspect of the overall team, which in addition to the crew, includes the engine, tire, and chassis manufacturers, and others behind the scenes.

But on race day, a slow pit stop can kill all chances for a good finish. Inadequate chassis adjustments can ruin the day. Or tires can be an issue. Sometimes the driver’s ability simply takes a back seat to all other aspects. New ethanol-based fuel also seems to handicap teams since fuel consumption has become a conundrum for crew chiefs. It has added an interesting new dimension to the race, but also has taken away the element of excitement of racing to the finish as cars run out of gas on the last lap. That didn’t happen at Kansas, but it certainly has in recent weeks.

As a Ryan Newman fan, I’ve seen all of these factors come into play. 

Boring or not, I would much prefer to see Newman lead all the laps and cruise to victory, rather watching him struggle with an ill-handling race car though that does make me feel more engaged in the event. I listen to his radio transmission; I feel his frustration. At Kansas, from what was said, it appears that just before the race, the team installed a different shock. It was obviously a bad idea since Newman mentioned that the car he practiced and the car he drove on race day seemed to be two different things. Since there wasn’t e large enough window of time to change the thing during a normal pit stop, they were stuck working with it. Any attempts to improve balance, grip, and speed seemed futile. Knowing that early in the race and knowing it isn’t going to change has to be really frustrating for any driver.

Thanks to Race Buddy, the technological wizardry that allows varied camera views to stream live action on the computer at, I was able to better follow along with what was happening with Newman’s race car. I love Race Buddy, which was first instituted on the TNT coverage, but ESPN picked it up for the Chase races. I was really thrilled when Newman had an in-car camera to follow his every move, but that was a fluke. It hasn’t happened again. It was a thrill to be able to feel as if I was a passenger in his race car. I compensate by watching anyone behind Newman’s car on the track, or on pit road, or on the backstretch, where the cameras are located. I enjoy watching how he handles the traffic, when he passes another car or if there is an incident in front of him. Without this function, and because race commentators rarely talk about his progress on the track, I can follow it myself and really understand how his race goes. Sadly, it hasn’t been going all that well during the last three races.

So with the help of Race Buddy, I didn’t watch the Kansas race, I watched Newman’s race. It became clear early on that winning the race was no longer the goal. Rather Newman could only strive for a decent finish. After a pit stop when he learned that he had to return to pit road because of a loose lug nut, it became clear that even a decent finish would be a challenge. The goal became simply finishing without losing too many points. Newman was two laps down toward the end of the race. There was little time to make up any positions on the track, which translates into points. The focus then became getting one of those laps back. Once he achieved that goal, it was then to be in the position to get the ‘lucky dog,’ the bonus for being the first car of the lap down cars. He did that, so when Jeff Gordon’s car blew up, that caution put Newman back onto the lead lap. That was a pinnacle moment. It is just too bad that it happened so close to the end of the race. Newman had no time to race for a better position in just three laps. All-in-all, his eighteenth place finish was excellent, given how far back he had been. Finishing 18th on the lead lap was his way of salvaging the day. It certainly could have been a lot worse. There is always next week at Charlotte, unfortunately, another mile –and-a-half track. Newman has no wins there, but four top 5’s and seven top 10’s.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Racing enthusiasts deserve religious freedom too

NASCAR is always looking at ways to increase its fan base. Perhaps one way to do that is to be considerate of more than NASCAR’s stereotypical race fan.

Perhaps it is time to consider the ‘comfort’ level of fans who either attend races or watch them on television.

Not all race fans are Evangelical Christians. Some may even be uncomfortable participating in organized religion. Why must auto racing enthusiasts have to endure such a preachy invocation as was delivered by Joe Gibbs Sunday at New Hampshire?

Religious freedom is important—it is guaranteed in our constitution—even when it involves auto racing. While the exact definition and attributes of religious freedom is and has always been up for debate, it is pretty certain that what was heard on Sunday crossed the line.

It is one thing to begin a race by asking The Almighty to watch over drivers for safety’s sake. It is quite another to go on and on about Jesus dying for our sins.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Stewart-Haas Racing marked by opposites and irony Sunday at Louden

Tony Stewart, NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Sp...Image via WikipediaDuring NASCAR’s second Championship race at Louden, New Hampshire, Stewart-Haas Racing drivers were both victorious and defeated, all at the same time.

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 car won the race, his second consecutive win during the Chase for the Championship. Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 who started in the pole position, finished a lap down, in 25th place.

Ironically, Stewart passed leader Clint Bowyer, driver of the #33 car, on the last lap when Bowyer ran out of gas. Last year, the roles were reversed.It was Stewart who ran out of gas and watched Bowyer cross the finish line first.

Stewart now holds the top spot in points in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship. Newman lost four spots in the standings, dropping from 7th to 11th in points. Ouch! It was a devastating day for Newman.

Newman had the best qualifying lap, so he started on the pole. He had great expectations, since he was the most recent Sprint Cup driver to win at Louden, winning the regular season race there in July when he also started from the pole. It is one of his favorite tracks and he always runs well there. And his performance of late has been superb.

It wasn’t meant to be this weekend, however, as it really is all about team work. And the #39 team didn’t deliver.

The first issue was a fluke—when during a pit stop Newman’s air hose got caught up on his splitter, costing precious time to clear it. Then there were other blunders on pit road, such as an issue with a lug nut and a bad call that resulted in his crew chief Tony Gibson’s numerous apologies over the radio. 

Finally, with five laps to go, Newman had to pit to change tires as he felt a problem with his right front tire. It was a devastating day for the #39 team.

As a fan, the whole race was hard to watch, especially since Newman’s car was featured on ESPN’s Race Buddy. A camera was mounted inside his race car, allowing us to feel as though we were riding along with our favorite driver at breakneck speeds. The experience was quite enjoyable during the first 62 laps, while Newman was leading the race.

We look forward to a turn around at Dover next weekend.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Who lit the match igniting the fire in Stewart-Haas Racing?

The Army team changes tires on the #39 Chevy I...
The Army team changes tires on the #39 Chevy Impala in the pit
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There seems to have been a turn around at Stewart-Haas Racing in the competition department. Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman are on fire—peaking at just the right time—so to speak.

Could Matt Borland, VP of Competition at Stewart-Haas Racing be holding the match?

It may be no coincidence that stepped up performance in both Tony Stewart’s #14 car and Ryan Newman’s #39 car seems to coincide with personnel changes at Stewart-Haas Racing instituted in June. That was when Matt Borland was promoted to VP of competition. Borland, who had been with the team even before Stewart took over co-ownership, replaced Bobby Hutchins, who was ‘let go’ June 6.

It seemed that performance in both teams was lacking. Something had to be done. And, it appears the change was just the right medicine.

Borland had been Newman’s crew chief at Penske Racing during the time when Newman was nicknamed “Rocketman” because of his unstoppable qualifying prowess.

Both drivers got off to a rough start this season. But in July, Newman won his first race. Two months later—last weekend at Chicagoland--Stewart won his first race. Just recently, Newman has put together a string of top 5’s and top-10 finishes. Both drivers have made the Chase for the Championship.

And, Newman has just clocked the fastest qualifying lap for tomorrow’s race at Louden.

Whatever caused the winning formula, let’s just hope it continues.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

First Chase for the Championship race, good for Stewart-Haas Racing

Tony Stewart, NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Sp...Image via WikipediaOverall, I'd say the first race of the Chase for the Championship was great for Stewart-Haas Racing. Tony Stewart is to be congratulated for a great run. He started way in the back, but it didn't take him long to make his way forward.

As for Ryan Newman, he turned lemons into lemonade. Normally, that would be a good thing, instead of settling for lemonade, Newman could have had champagne. He finished 8th after running out of gas on the last lap. It was a gamble, and he lost. He could have won the first race in the Chase for the Championship. But that's the way it goes sometimes. Newman has to be proud of his performance in the rain-delayed race Monday. He drove a phenomenal race, hovering at the front of the field the entire day. Who knows what would have happened had he not run out of gas at the end? Perhaps it is best that he didn't have to race the boss man for the win. As nice as it would have been to see Ryan win it, seeing Tony win it was just about as good.

I'm glad they finally got the race in, even though it was a day late. Tony probably would not have done so well on Sunday, since he said he had a migraine headache. All is well for Stewart-Haas Racing fans.

Chicagoland Speedway logoImage via WikipediaI always have nostalgic feelings when the race is held at Chicagoland Speedway.

I watched Chicagoland Speedway being built. It was just a few miles from where I used to live and work as a reporter for a local paper. There is no doubt that if I still lived and worked there, that I would be at the track covering the rain, and then interviewing Tony Stewart afterward. I'm sure there would also be a generous number of photos of the #39 car as well.

When the track was being built, I remember thinking that it was massive; it rose like a monolith on the flat, fertile land. In those days I didn't understand. I had very limited knowledge of racing. I knew nothing about NASCAR or drivers' personalities, or the speeds at which the cars are driven. I had no idea that this huge endeavor would add to the billion-dollar industry that is NASCAR. I had heard names like Richard Petty and Davey Allison, but knew nothing of who they were.

I recall meeting one of the track promoters at a local gathering, though I can't remember her name. She was very interested to learn that I worked for a newspaper, as she was obviously trying to publicize the track's activities. She offered to show me around the completed race track. And she said to call her if I was interested in press credentials, or if there was anything else she could do for me.

My how things have changed. Somewhere around 2004, I had my NASCAR awakening. My son, Chris introduced me to the sport and to Ryan Newman, his favorite driver. My adoration for Newman and his driving prowess may have even surpassed that of my son. It didn't take long before I was completely obsessed, like so many others who worship at the oval altar of concrete and asphalt, banked turns, three-wide racing and photo finishes nearly every weekend. Friends and family know not to call me on race day.

Retired now, home is in Arkansas, not Illinois. I love living here, in the beautiful 'Natural State.' I'm not homesick for Illinois, but it sure would be nice to be there, if just for race day.
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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ryan Newman locked into the Chase for the Championship

NASCAR driver Ryan Newman slips into the Army ...Image via Wikipedia
Who can rejoice over a 20th place finish?

The answer is simple--I, and all the other fans of Ryan Newman who were thrilled to see Newman get locked into the 2011 Chase for the Championship. While his team's performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway was less-than-stellar, it was certainly all it needed to be. After all, making the chase this year was the team's goal. Mission accomplished! 

After numerous rain delays, courtesy of Tropical Storm Lee that reigned from Sunday to Tuesday in the Atlanta area, the second-to-last race of the 2011 regular NASCAR season is finally in the books, all 500 miles of it. 

Krissie Newman, who often tweets during the race, remarked about how long the race seemed to be. She was absolutely right. 

I can't imagine how grueling it is for drivers to race for 500 miles at such high speeds in traffic. I liken a 500-mile race to be about the same distance between where I live in the Ozarks to where I used to live in Illinois. That trip is nightmarish and takes approximately eight hours on a good day with no major traffic tieups and no pit stops, pottie breaks, or pauses for food along the way. In fact, though I've made the trip in eight hours, it is actually closer to a nine-hour drive. It is hard to imagine driving that distance every weekend.

Congratulations to Ryan Newman for making the chase this year. I have long thought him to be a champion already, so to me, all this is just formality. Next, it will be a pleasure to watch Tony follow in his drivers' footsteps. I have no doubt that Tony will secure his spot in the chase at Richmond. 

This will be a fun race to watch because I'm sure Newman will enjoy it. There will be no pressure for points--just the normal pressure to win, something he has already done. That has to be a burden lifted from his shoulders. In fact, Newman has one win, one pole, five top 5's, and 11 top 10's at Richmond, in his career.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Ryan Newman on the pole at Bristol

LOUDON, NH - JULY 16:  Ryan Newman, driver of ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeRyan Newman earns the pole position for the Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway tomorrow night.

This is Newman's second pole this season. The last time he lead the field to the green for the start of the race, it was at New Hampshire, he led the final lap too.

Newman also won Wednesday's Whelen Modified Tour race at Bristol. This redeeming race followed his win at New Hampshire when he was stripped of the victory by NASCAR officials who also penalized car owner Kevin "Bono" Manion because of modifications on the race

Newman has won four times in five starts. It would have been five out of five, had he not been disqualified last month.

Go Ryan!

Danica Patrick joins NASCAR

Gone are the days of "Gentlemen, start your engines." Those gentlemen will now include a lady, once Danica Patrick is on the scene. Patrick has announced that she will join NASCAR as a full time driver in 2012 in the Nationwide series. She will drive for JR Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Patrick will also spend nearly two dozen races behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup car, driving for Stewart-Haas Racing.

It was bound to happen to the male-dominated sport of stock car racing. It is not that there haven't been successful women participating in the sport in the past, because there have. Women have made their mark in race car driving.

In 1949, Sara Christian, the first woman race car driver, posted a fifth-place finish at Pittsburgh, the best finish by a woman in NASCAR history. Christian ran seven races, with her first competition at Charlotte.

But probably the best known woman race car driver was Janet Guthrie, who ran 33 races between 1976 and 1980. Like Patrick, Guthrie was probably better known for driving Indy cars, but she also made a name for herself at NASCAR. She started in the top ten and posted top-ten finishes in the NASCAR’s Winston Cup, which is now the Sprint Cup Series. She finished sixth at Bristol, Tennessee in ‘77, which remains the best by a woman in the recent NASCAR era.

Guthrie is the only woman to take the lead in a Cup race. She was the Top Rookie in five races in her day. She was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006.

It will be exciting to watch Danica Patrick go the distance with these good ole boys. It might be more fun to watch how they react to it. I believe Patrick is here to stay. She is spunky. She is competitive. And she is qualified. Her presence will undoubtedly beef up the Nationwide Series, which is already, in my opinion, becoming a must watch program.

I’m even more excited to watch her career as a Sprint Cup driver in a Stewart-Haas car. Since I’m a woman, Ryan Newman is my favorite driver, and I happen to have a GoDaddy website ( this is a tad personal for me. I am really going to enjoy racing in 2012, not that it hasn’t been stellar this year.

With Ryan Newman seventh in points, his racing prowess is becoming obvious to even his staunchest critics. I love saying I told you so to those hard-nose idiots that have long misjudged him. 

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ryan Newman recognized for top performance

Bristol Motor Speedway - Food City 500 in 2009...Image via Wikipedia
It is so refreshing to see Ryan Newman get the recognition he deserves. 

In a press release yesterday, announced that Newman and the #39 team won two awards following the race at the Michigan International Speedway Sunday.

The DirectTV Crew Chief of the Race award went to Newman's Crew Chief Tony Gibson, for having the lowest average of qualifying result and race finish. Newman qualified fifth and crossed the checkers in fifth as well.

Newman won the Mobile1 Driver of the Race award, for having the best finish of eligible Mobile 1 drivers.

The release also quoted Newman's second engineer, Wes Gantt. 

Gantt remarked that Newman's engineering background helps the team because he is able to "look at data and interpret it."

In other news, just today, noted that Ryan Newman has earned more points than any other Sprint Cup driver in the last five races. He has earned 187 points, just ahead of Jeff Gordon, with 186 and Jimmie Johnson with 184.

An article on their website calls Newman, the "hottest driver on the circuit at the moment." They say that fact might surprise a few people.

Consider me not among them. I am surprised when Newman has an off day. I have long considered him to be championship material. He is a hell of a driver, but has a bad relationship with Lady Luck. It is my opinion that once Newman learns to tame her, there will be no stopping the Rocketman.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Newman feels at home at Michigan

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 19:  Ryan Newman, driver...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeThe Michigan International Speedway is special to Ryan Newman, so it is especially good to see him run well there. He certainly did that—grabbing a fifth place starting spot and finishing fifth, with lots of good runs in between.

There is no doubt about it—when your favorite driver has a good day, and especially a good finish, it makes racing really fun to watch. Needless to say I enjoyed this week’s Michigan race. Newman climbed to seventh in points with only three races to go before the Chase for the Championship begins.

It is clear that Newman and his team are giving it everything they’ve got. I can’t quite put my finger on it, or can I recall just when it happened, but early in this season it seems as if something just began to click. The cars seemed to go faster, balance improved, pit stops became competitive again, and the entire team seemed to come together.

Newman has won and lost at Michigan, where he holds the track record. He made it around the two-mile oval in 194.232 seconds during a qualifying lap in 2005.

A respectable fifth place finish can certainly earn Newman bragging rights as well. That is just the way it should be too, since this track is one he considers his home track. His father Greg brought him to the races when he was growing up. It isn’t far from where they lived in South Bend, IN. No doubt Newman dreamed of wheeling his own race car around it.

An avid fisherman, Newman has donated to youth camps and provided scholarships for kids. He never forgot learning to fish there with his grandfather. He’d like other kids to grow up with the same experience.

Perhaps the biggest proof of Newman’s devotion to the Michigan International Speedway, in Brooklyn, MI, is that he and his wife Krissie named their daughter Brooklyn.
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