By Rick Minter
Just when it was looking like the 2013 Sprint Cup season was one that Ryan Newman just as soon forget, it turned into one he’ll always remember for a magical weekend in July.
When Newman left New Hampshire Motor Speedway after the July 14 race leading up to the midsummer break, he was having to deal with the news that he was losing his ride in the No. 39 Chevrolet at Stewart-Haas Racing and the fact that he’d been in a crash that left him 39th at New Hampshire and seemingly out of the running for a Chase berth.
But when the South Bend, Ind., native arrived at his home-state track, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard, his fortunes took a 180-degree turnaround. He won the pole, the 50th of his career, with a track record lap of 187.531 miles per hour. Then in the race, he outdueled four-time Indy winner Jimmie Johnson to get his first win at Indianapolis. It was the 17th of his career, and it put him right back in the running for a Chase berth. He’s now 16th in the standings, 25 points away from 10th place, but his Brickyard win puts him squarely in the running for a wild card Chase berth.
As the reality of Newman’s accomplishment began to sink in, it was the past — his and Indy’s — that seemed to be foremost on his mind.
“I don’t show a lot of emotion,” he said. “I had the same emotion, the same thankfulness I did when I won the Daytona 500. I feel everybody that has been a part of my racing career, from people that bought my racing uniform, bought me a right-rear tire, gave us a credit card to get to some race track at some point in my career … those are the people that helped me get to where I am today.”
Newman mentioned his parents, his sister, his crew chief, Matt Borland, former Penske team president Don Miller and others who helped him advance from the short tracks of the Midwest to NASCAR’s elite division.
“People that have been instrumental in my career, it could be the littlest thing I’m thankful for,” he said. “That’s what I’m thinking about.”
He also talked about the satisfaction of winning a major race in his home state.
“I grew up racing around here — [at] Winchester, Salem, [Indianapolis Raceway Park], little tracks like Anderson [Speedway],” he said. “That makes it special.”
And he pointed out that it wasn’t always easy.
“Most people don’t know I lived out in a shop in Jeff Gordon’s old shop before I ever made it in NASCAR,” he said. “I slept with the race cars. That was my summer job, working race cars, sleeping in the shop with them,” Newman said.
“Those are the things that make it special. I think about those things more than I carry the emotion on my cheeks.”
Newman also talked about his appreciation of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the racing that’s gone on there for more than a century.
“I just am a big fan of cars,” he said. “I’m a big fan of making ’em go fast. That’s happened here since 1909. I appreciate that.”
He said that during the closing laps of the race, when he was running on two fresh tires to Jimmie Johnson’s four but still holding him at bay, he thought about a story his father, Greg Newman, told him from years ago.
“I remember my dad always telling me, he was here when Parnelli [Jones] broke with four [laps] to go [in the Indianapolis 500],” Newman said. “With three to go, we made the past where Parnelli made it.”
And it wound up being a victory much like others he and Borland have accomplished together over the years.
Borland’s decision to change only right-side tires on the final green-flag pit stop, coupled with a slow stop by Johnson’s crew while changing four, gave Newman a 10-second lead over Johnson that he never relinquished over the final 27 laps. As the other drivers who pitted later than the dominant duo made their stops, Newman and Johnson advanced forward, with Newman leading the final 12 laps and crossing the finish line 2.66 seconds ahead of Johnson, the runner-up over Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart.
“Matt made an awesome call,” Newman said. “I’ve won more races with him on old tires and out of gas than I have with four tires and the best car.”