Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Ryan Newman: Searching. Can he find happiness as Tony Stewart's teammate?

  By Mike Mulhern

   Good ol' number 39.
   Yeah, we do remember a number 14. Wasn't that Coo Coo Marlin's old number?
   Don't think Tony Stewart was really thinking about Coo Coo and Eula Faye when he picked 14 as his new NASCAR trademark.
   And it won't be quite the same without Tony carrying the number 20 this season.
   Numbers, numbers. Get a scorecard. Things are changing.  
   And Ryan Newman is right in there amongst them. He certainly has a busy schedule in the next few days. But then as the defending Daytona 500 winner that's expected.
   The big for Newman of course is how well will he fare with his new team, in his new Chevys, and with his new teammate-and-owner Tony Stewart.


So they're smiling now, but.....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


The past two or three seasons haven't been kind to Newman, to say the least. That's why he split with Roger Penske.
   However: no matter what problems Penske might have at the moment with his wide-ranging businesses around the world (most tied in with car makers), Penske is still Roger Penske…and if a driver can't make a go of it with Roger Penske at the helm of the race team, well, let's put it kindly – Ryan Newman has to prove himself all over again this season.
   Is Newman simply over-rated? He did have a couple great years. Then the slump. Was the slump Penske's fault? Certainly Penske hasn't been on top of his NASCAR racing game lately. And without Rusty Wallace to goad Newman, maybe the driver-engineer lost a little spark.
   Then again maybe Chevrolet will provide the key. Those Dodges simply haven't been very tough on the stock car tour the last couple years, regardless of who is at the wheel.
   Newman's Daytona win a year ago was quite the upset. SpeedWeeks was all Toyota, with Kyle Busch and Stewart ready to finish one-two at the end…until Newman and his own teammate Kurt Busch pulled the stunner.
    "It was pretty cool," Newman says of those final laps. "It was a great win -- for myself, for Penske Racing. Just a dream come true."


Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch: teamed in Newman's Daytona win last year (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Newman's new operation will be keyed on the technical side by Bobby Hutchens, from the Richard Childress camp, which is a decided plus.
   However there are a heck of a lot of egos in this Newman-Stewart operation. And it's unclear who's going to be able to keep them all in check. Particularly if the season doesn't get off to a smashing start.
   Newman says he's been leaving all that up to the guys back in the shop: "I've spent some time vacationing…which I don't typically do. Just because it is vacation time. 
   "Krissie and I went to Idaho snowmobiling. And then I went on a little 'man' trip, hunting up in Illinois.
   "Tony Gibson (crew chief), Tony Stewart, Darian Grubb (the other crew chief), and Bobby Hutchins are working on putting the family tree together.  They've done a great job in my opinion so far." 


Ryan Newman: When you're the Daytona 500 winner, you have a lot of strange PR to do (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


This new Stewart-Newman pairing, considering last year's final miles at Daytona, is interesting: déjà vu? "If we had to do the same thing as last year and replay it, I would anticipate Tony pulling up in front of my line, and I would push Tony ahead…knowing that I would be his teammate," Newman says now.
  'But Tony knows I'm a racer, and I know he's a racer, and we'll race until the end….but not sacrifice each other's performance."
   And these two have done that before. Remember those heated duals a few years ago, particularly that one at Charlotte?
   But can Newman and Stewart really expect to be contenders this time again at Daytona, with a new team, even with Rick Hendrick's support?
   "I am confident we'll be a contender at Daytona," Newman says. "We'll be competitive.
   "But second: our goal is for both cars to make it into the chase."
   Can Newman really find happiness with the volatile Stewart as his new boss?
   He says yes.
   "Tony invited my wife Krissie and me up to his place, and they did the charity hunt…gave a little girl who is ill an opportunity to shoot a deer, and she did, and it put a smile on her face," Newman said.
   "Just a situation like that -- to do something good with my owner – is something I didn't really expect…and I'm happy to be a part of it."
    Golly, isn't that the old Dale Earnhardt routine? Stewart is a good learner.

The end of an era for Tony Stewart, who won a lot of races in Greg Zipadelli's cars (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Nevertheless, with NASCAR banning testing at the Cup tour tracks, it may be difficult for new drivers and new crews to become tight. Testing at places like New Smyrna and Rockingham, well, that's just not the same as testing at Daytona and California and Las Vegas, real places on the tour.
    But Newman insists January testing at Daytona "is realistically three days that could have and should have been 'off,' in my opinion.
   "I never thought we needed to test. 
   "Sure, it's nice. And the one thing I wish we could test for is for the fans -- because there are fans that show up at Daytona and enjoy the atmosphere and the testing. Some fans might not be able to afford to come for the Daytona 500 itself, or SpeedWeeks. But they might want to come to testing. 
   "I wish we could service the fans in that way.
   "But with the economy the way it is, I don't feel we need to test. And it's all good with me….we just get a couple more days that they find something else for us to do."
   Like promotions and marketing. 
   However, in preparing for the new season engineers and computer simulations can only do so much.
   Then too the two crew chiefs, Gibson and Grubb need to learn how to work together, and that means they each need to understand both Newman and Stewart and their styles. A quick reflection on the trials and tribulations that Newman faced during those tumultuous seasons with  showed that.
   "For me, it's important to understand what Tony's balance feels like, and vice versa," Newman points out. "For Darian and Tony Gibson to work together -- to understand when Tony says the car is loose whether it's drivable or un-drivable for me. And vice versa."

   Stewart is coming back to Chevrolet after a year with Toyota; Newman is coming to Chevrolet after several years with Dodge. Both will face transitions. 

   And then there's the never-ending sponsorship part of the game: The U.S. Army is paying part of the bills for Newman and Stewart.
   So Newman went to Fort Bragg the other day, to shoot some guns. "They fired a few bombs off, and shotguns inside a 20-by-20 room with rubber walls, and I was in on part of that. 
    "The coolest thing was their vertical wind tunnel -- simulation for skydiving."
   And how will these two men, Newman and Stewart, deal with any 'anxiety separation,' after spending so many years in a different world?
   "For me, it was just a difficult time to move on," Newman concedes.
   "My dedication to driving the race car never changed (last year, after his decision).  I drove every lap as hard as I possibly could…and we just didn't have the success I would have hoped for."
   Still, Newman said he spent much of last year essentially doing two jobs – working for Penske's team, while organizing for this season with Stewart. And the moves toward teaming with Stewart actually began very early in the season, which Newman concedes put him in an awkward situation at times: "It was tough for me because I was off of a Daytona 500 victory with a team that I had been with for seven years, and I had a situation that came up where I had an opportunity to move on. 
   "Tony gave me that opportunity. We talked about it. And my season was kind of dissolving, let's say, throughout the summer months."
   And then Newman finally made the decision. 
   "In the end, you have to create your own future," Newman says now. "You have to do the things that make you happy. You have to do the things that are going to be beneficial for you, financially and for your personal life, for the long run."
   And yet Newman is starting this season with only partial sponsorship, from the Army….though he says Stewart and Company "are working on the additional sponsorship to fulfill all 37 races.
    "I wouldn't say I'm worried. But it's a trying time in our economy, and we're trying to do the things we can to be as successful as we can." 


Yep, good ol' number 39 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com