When Ryan Newman talks about sway and drag coefficient and linear stress ratios, it is probably a good thing to listen. This is one stock car driver who did not earn his ride as
an accomplished shade-tree mechanic.
In a field where most of the educational foundation comes at break-neck speeds on dirt tracks and tight asphalt ovals, Newman is a rarity. He holds a degree in vehicle structure engineering from Purdue University, where he received a prestigious engineering scholarship after earning National Honor Society membership at LaSalle High School in South Bend.
There are not many college boys in NASCAR, but Newman has parlayed that advanced education, and an extensive background in Midget racing, into a pretty nice ride in the Nextel Cup Series. He runs under the Penske Racing South umbrella for principal sponsor Alltell.
Newman, who is a member of the Quarter Midget Hall of Fame with more than 100 feature victories, was racing quarter-midgets before his fifth birthday.
He started to make some national noise in 2000, when he scored three wins and two poles in just five starts in the ARCA series.
The following year Newman got his feet wet on three fronts, taking part in two ARCA races, 15 Busch Series races and seven Cup races. He got his first Busch Series win at Michigan International Speedway in just his ninth start, and won the pole position six times in just 14 Busch Series races that year.
In his early Cup Series ventures in 2001, Newman gained his first pole in the Coca-Cola 600 and finished second at Kansas.
In 2002, Newman continued his move up the ladder by earning the rookie of the year honor in the Cup series with six poles, 14 top-fives and 22 top-10 finishes. Then last year he spent considerable time at both ends of the spectrum on a highly unusual roller-coaster ride of a season.
Newman won eight races, far and away the most on the circuit, and led in a record 24 events. He captured 11 poles, and had an incredible string in midseason where he won six of 13 races.
On the flip side, Newman had five races he did not finish, and a woeful run out of the gate in which he was 38th or worse in six of the first 15 races.
He came into this season as the favorite to win the Nextel Cup points race, but finds himself teetering on the bubble with just five races to go before the field is cut to the top 10 for the Chase for the Nextel Cup, which plays out over the final 10 races of the year.
A run of bad luck featuring blown tires and bad timing around mishaps has Newman in 10th place in the points race as the circuit moves to Watkins Glen this weekend. Newman will come to MIS next week as the defending champion in the GFS Marketplace 400, and the winner of the DHL 400 there in June.
He will also likely be desperate for a strong showing to stay in the mix in the points race.
"There have been some frustrating times," Newman said after finishing 31st at the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday. He had been as high as seventh in the field, but was taken out of contention by an accident late in the race.
"Every week you come out here with the same focus - you want to win," Newman said. "But sometimes you spend most of the day trying to get the car just right, and other times things happen that are out of your control. You just keep pushing and working hard and expecting good things to happen."
Newman, who has one win in 21 starts this season, has high expectations for a run around the road course at Watkins Glen this weekend.
"This team has been strong on road courses in the past, and we are looking forward to the race here," Newman said. "We seem to be able to adjust pretty well on these types of courses. The key this week, I think, is to be consistent each time around the track. The driver really has to be on, and maintain an edge throughout the race."
With six top-five finishes and nine top-10s in the 21 races so far this season, Newman is not struggling by most standards. But after last year, being 10th in the points race at this juncture is sub-par for Newman.
"We want to be in that championship playoff picture, just like everyone else does," Newman said, "and we are still very much a part of it. I wish we could have won some more races and put ourselves in a stronger position, but we can't worry about what has happened in the past. We come to work each day intent on doing all we can to come back and be better every race. That approach has to pay off."
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