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Atlanta 500 qualifying is up next...and this is a perfect place for Ryan Newman to show he's Mr. Friday


Ryan Newman (L) and crew chief Tony Gibson haven't gotten off to a rousing start this season (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Tony Stewart may be learning one of those difficult car owner lessons that veterans like Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs and Richard Childress already know so well – how to keep teammates happy, when one is doing well, and the other isn't.
   Stewart himself has been off to a good start as owner-driver, eighth in the NASCAR standings, just 80 points out of first, three races into the season.
   But teammate Ryan Newman, well, things aren't going quite so well.
   "It has been a frustrating few weeks for the team," Newman concedes, after a 36th at Daytona, 28th at California, and 25th at Las Vegas.
   "But it's a long season.
    "It helps me to think about the things that have gone right. We have had highly competitive cars….but we have had some rough luck."
    Crew chief Ton Gibson agrees: "We haven't had very good luck starting off the year. But we aren't giving up.
    "I have been through this before…and so have a lot of people. Teams go through stages like this where you can't do anything right.
     "And then you go through a stage where you can't do anything wrong.
     "We just can't wait to get on the other side of this deal.
     "We've got our heads up, and Ryan's in the game. We're in this deal together. We're going to fight through it.
    "There are other guys struggling too.
      "It will turn around. We've just got to be positive and keep digging.
     "We learned a lot at Las Vegas. We had a really strong car in qualifying, and a really good car in the race too, we just didn't get to show it.
     "We keep having these stumbling blocks that get in our way of showing how good we can be.
     "I think this weekend is our time to turn it around.
     "They say bad things come in threes, and Las Vegas was our third race together….so hopefully all our bad luck is out of the way.
   "This is a tough sport. There are no guarantees in this business. It's a humbling sport.
    "Just when you think you've got it, it can turn on you really, really quick.
     "You just have to keep your guys positive, and keep a good attitude, and keep chugging along…because you never know when your opportunity is going to come along to win a race. You have to be mentally prepared and physically prepared to take advantage of those opportunities when they come."
   And this has been a good track for Newman….on Fridays at least.
   In fact this lightning-fast 1-1/2-mile oval might be where Newman earned the nickname Mr. Friday: he's won seven poles here. Another pole Friday would give him the record….ironically from Buddy Baker, the man who mentored him during Newman's early years on the tour.
    A curious lesson – Baker would have Newman drive a track backwards, in practice, to get "a different perspective on entry and exit points.
     "Buddy probably helped me more than I realized at the time -- because he never told me what to do…he told me what not to do.
    "He would never tell me when I was doing something right, but he always told me what I was doing wrong.
    "He truly was a very important part of my career."

Legendary Buddy Baker: driving a track backwards? Hey, if it works....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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