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The Chase - Newman Preview - Martinsville

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KANNAPOLIS, Oct. 26, 2011: Ryan Newman has won 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races during his career and they’ve come on tracks that are .75-mile, 1 mile, 1.5 miles, 2 miles and 2.5 miles in length. But he’s never won on a road course and he’s never taken the checkered flag at a half-mile track.

The road course races at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International are complete for 2011, but he can still add a half-mile win to his résumé during Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 Sprint Cup Series race at the .526-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

And it seems as though the pieces are in place for victory.

Newman has won three poles at Martinsville, all of which have come in fall races (2002, 2004 and 2009), and he has started outside of the top-10 just six times in 19 starts at the short track. And, three of those six starts outside the top-10 were based on Newman’s position in the owner points after qualifying was rained out.

He has nine top-10 finishes in 19 starts and has led laps in seven races at Martinsville, including holding the point in three of the last four events. Newman came oh-so-close to victory in October 2007, when he finished second – his best finish at the paperclip-shaped oval – to five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. With less than 10 laps to go, Newman had patiently made his way into the second spot and was quickly chasing down Johnson. However, just as Newman caught up with Johnson, the caution flag waved, handing Johnson the win.

But perhaps the biggest weapon Newman, his crew chief Tony Gibson and the Haas Automation team are bringing to the track is Chassis 39-645. It debuted in April at Martinsville, where Newman started second and, for the first 327 laps of the 500-lap Goody’s Fast Relief 500, he and the No. 39 Haas Automation team looked to be a sure bet for top-10 finish, or even a contender for the win. Newman led three laps and ran solidly in the top-10 for most of the afternoon, but his good fortunes came undone on lap 328 thanks to a broken header pipe that sapped his car’s horsepower for the rest of the race, and a flat left-rear tire that sent him for a spin off turn three a little later in the race. Those events conspired to put Newman two laps down and relegated him to a 20th-place finish.

In July, Newman drove Chassis 39-645 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, where he started on the pole and led 118 of 301 laps en route to his 15th career Sprint Cup Series victory. Two months later, he drove the same car at Loudon, started on the pole once again and led the first 62 laps before, but finished a disappointing 25th as a cut tire with less than five laps remaining dropped him out of the top-10.

Yes, Newman has a good car and a good history at Martinsville. Now, all he needs to do is add to just add to the résumé.

RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:

The No. 39 team has a history of doing well at short tracks. What is it about short tracks that you like?

“I like using the middle (brake) pedal. In all seriousness, I think it adds another parameter of a driver’s input when you have to modulate that third pedal. We have to go to places like Las Vegas and you’re using very little brake. When you are using a little bit, it’s hard to screw it up. I think our team has done a really good job with the brake package that we have. I like the short tracks. I like having the character added to the program of modulating the brake. In my opinion, the driver has a little more of an impact on the end result at short tracks than some of the bigger racetracks, and I like that. The more the drivers are involved, the more I think you get to race and, from that standpoint, I think it’s more fun. Tony Gibson (crew chief) has some great setups with our short-track program. I enjoy them, he enjoys them, and we just go out there and have some fun. We’ve had a good car each time we’ve been to Martinsville. Gibson is a great fan of Martinsville and short-track racing, and he’s got a great understanding of the racecar there and what I like, and that makes a big difference, obviously, for me. We’ve been able to get three top-10 finishes in our four trips to Martinsville. Last fall, we had a rare issue that took us out of contention and this spring we were really good until the header pipe broke and we had a flat tire. So we’re looking forward to getting back on a streak of good runs at Martinsville.”

While you have run well at Martinsville, two drivers have won nine of the last 10 races there (Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson). With how strong the No. 39 team has run at Martinsville in the past, are you on par to beat the two guys who have dominated the competition there in recent years?

“I just think that, while the competition is still really close, those guys have risen to the top at that racetrack, which is entirely unique to anything else we have on the schedule. I think that, in itself, Martinsville being Martinsville is part of it. The other part of it is the drivers have to really modulate that brake pedal, which is another part of it. You can have the best car there and burn the brakes off of it and finish 35th. I have actually blown two tires out, melted the beads on two tires at one time and blew both of them at the same time, which I thought was pretty cool, afterward. But seriously, we’ve been good there – we have been really good – especially on Fridays, and we seem to start off a little slow on Sundays and end up in the top-five or top-10. I thought last fall was going to be a good race for us had we not lost a gear because we were leading at the time. I think we have made some pretty big gains to try to catch those guys and surpass them, so I think the No. 39 team is looking forward to getting back to a track that has been really good for us.”

Talk about bringing Chassis No. 39-645 to Martinsville?

“It’s a car we’ve had a lot of success with in just three races. It’s got two poles and started on the outside of the first row, so it’s been a good car to qualify with, for sure. Obviously we got that win at New Hampshire and, while the other two results may not show it, it’s run well and we led laps at the first Martinsville race and the fall New Hampshire race. Hopefully, we can have a good run with it again this weekend at Martinsville.”