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Newman-Busch-Gordon 1-2-3 for the start of the 600....and remember what happened to those three in the All-star

Uh, Jimmie, that haircut? Wasn't the beard enough bad luck? Jimmie Johnson (L) and Ryan Newman (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   By Mike Mulhern

   Deja vu? Oh, yeah. And Ryan Newman is ready for it this time.
   "I'm going to call a meeting in the NASCAR hauler for all three teams, to discuss that first lap," Newman said with a grin after edging Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon for the pole for Sunday's Coke 600.
   Just last Saturday night Newman was on the outside of Busch and Gordon in a three-wide battle for the lead in the final miles of NASCAR's annual All-star race….and the three ran out of room.
   Gordon slammed into the outside wall, and Newman and Busch suffered bruised fenders, which slowed them down the stretch. And Tony Stewart – Newman's teammate – took advantage to win the Sprint All-star.
   "The last 20-lap segment we started last and drove up to ninth, then Jimmie Johnson spun out and we restarted eighth…and within two laps we were leading the thing," Newman said of Saturday night's theatrics.
   "So it was a great run….until we just ended up in the right place at the wrong time -- the right place being out front, and the wrong time being three-wide off of turn four.
    "It kind of squashed our day. It bent the car up and the right-rear tire was rubbing. We tried to restart it, and it didn't drive right, and it was filling the cockpit full of smoke, and I thought it was best at that point to go back to the garage."
   Now Newman's back again in the lead, for Sunday night's 5:45 p.m. EDT start.
   So it's a heck of a homecoming for Gene Haas, the team owner, who sold half of his team to Stewart last year.
   Haas has had a team, and a well-funded team, with considerable support from Rick Hendrick, since 2002. But this is the first time that the operation – albeit radically redesigned by Stewart – has really clicked. Stewart is second in the standings, somewhat amazing for a first-year owner-driver, and Newman, despite his woeful start to the year, is a comfortable eighth.
   "The building, to me, looks the same as it was a year or so ago," Haas says of his shop. "Actually the biggest differences I see is in the attitude. It seems like we have this winning attitude throughout the company now.
    "Before, we didn't have too many fans come into our fan shop, and there are quite of a few of those coming in now.
    "So, if anything, it just seems like a whole new attitude throughout the whole complex.
    "The biggest problem with a team is trying to find the talent. When I started our NASCAR team in 2002, it was really ridiculous -- Most people start off with a Truck team or a Busch team or something a little less strenuous. But whatever. I never really seem to get things right, so I just decided 'What the heck, we'll just go for the Cup team.'
    "It was Rick who gave us the direction.
    "But, from that, it's really difficult. It seems like in NASCAR it takes five years before the people in the garage will even really accept you. It's almost like you don't really exist until you've been here for a few years and people get to know you and understand that you might survive.
   "It really does take a lot of tenacity and money and time and effort just to survive in this.
    "And finding talent is probably the hardest thing for a small team."
   That's not a problem now, with two of the tour's best drivers wheeling, and two of the best crew chiefs running things, under Bobby Hutchens' eyes as general manager.
    Haas says he's impressed: "Running a business and doing it successfully, well, there is probably a little bit of magic there too. What I'm really good at is basically finding people who know what they're doing and letting them do their thing.
    "I've never really been a hands-on manager. I don't put my fingers in things. I put a lot of faith in the people I have, and then let them run with what they have and see where it goes.
    "As far as how I'm going to put myself back in here, in day-to-day operations -- about the only thing I'm really qualified to do is open up champagne bottles."
   The deal to put Stewart in charge and bring in Newman?
    "Well, I have to give that credit to Joe Custer," Haas says, of the other general manager at the shop.
   "I really didn't hear too much about what was going on about what to do with the team. But Joe approached me a little over a year ago and said he had this idea.
    "His idea was that we had to make a change.
    "We had been in the business six years, and we really were just struggling.
    "Like any other businessmen, you know you have to do something.
    "We needed to do something in a big way.
    "I told Joe I don't need to be coming to these races to be running 35th . So I told him either we make a change or we turn the place into a truck stop.
    "It wasn't funny to go to the races and lose all the time.
    "So I really have to give Joe Custer the credit for coming up with this wild, crazy idea."
   The only Ford in the top-10 was the Woods', with Bill Elliott. "I'm so glad we came here and ran last week," Elliott said. "They weren't planning on doing it, and I sat down and talked to Len, Eddie and David Hyder (the crew chief) and said 'Look guys, if there's any way, we need to try to run the All-Star weekend.  We can learn so much.'
   "We came over here, and made some changes, and that was good.  We came with kind of a whole different deal than we had last week, and it really paid off. 
    "I've been out of the car for a while, and you need to do this stuff every week -- it just makes you better.
   "This is a tough race track to get around, and I'm glad for the guys, because they need this bad."


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