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Sprint Cup - Newman Michigan Race Preview

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KANNAPOLIS, June 12, 2012: Two-hundred and thirty-seven years ago, our Nation’s leaders established the Continental Army, beginning a rich heritage of successfully defending this great country and her citizens.

This weekend at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Ryan Newman and Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will help celebrate the continued honor, loyalty and bravery of our Soldiers in this noble calling as Newman takes the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet into the Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday.

Since its inception in June 1775, the U.S. Army has served as the backbone of our Nation. And since taking the wheel of the Soldiers’ car in 2009, Newman has had the opportunity to witness first-hand the courage and selfless service of the Army Strong Soldiers he represents. South Bend, Ind., native Newman wears the U.S. Army logo that adorns the chest of his uniform and the hood of his racecar with great pride.

As such, a victory in the Quicken Loans 400 would be the ultimate “thank you” Newman could offer, something Newman has done 16 times in his Sprint Cup career, twice at Michigan.

Those Michigan wins came in successive visits to the 2-mile, D-shaped oval (August 2003 and June 2004). In 2003, Newman started on the outside pole and led 32 laps en route to the win. In 2004, he started fourth and led 22 laps on his way to taking the checkered flag. Augmenting those triumphs is a pole (June 2005) and five top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 22 career Sprint Cup starts.

Yet after those back-to-back wins, Newman struggled in his return trips to Michigan. He found very little luck in the Irish Hills, as no more top-10s were recorded until last season.

In 2011, Newman and Co. took a page from its U.S. Army counterparts, where its Soldiers put the mission first with a never-quit attitude and a refusal to accept defeat. Together with crew chief Tony Gibson, Newman refocused and analyzed his past performances at Michigan and devised a chassis setup that worked for the racetrack and his aggressive driving style. Their collective fortitude paid off in 2011, as Newman earned a sixth-place finish in June and a fifth-place result in August.

A new challenge awaits the U.S. Army Racing Team at Michigan – fresh pavement. The fresh grip that will be available through the newly repaved track’s sweeping corners has enabled drivers in recent testing to tour the 2-mile oval at speeds of up to 215 mph approaching the corners, which is roughly 25 mph faster than the average pole speed for the Sprint Cup race at Michigan last August.

Newman and Gibson will again take a page from their U.S. Army brethren where, in the face of white-knuckle speeds, they’ll maintain the strength to complete the mission, which is winning the race. And that, on the 237th birthday of the U.S. Army, would be icing on the cake.

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

Describe the amount of pride you feel in representing the U.S. Army and what it would mean for you to give the Soldiers a win on the Army’s birthday.

“This weekend is special for a lot of reasons. Michigan is one of the first places I ever came and saw a NASCAR Sprint Cup race as a fan. I’ve always considered it home, so it is just kind of like coming back home for me. But, most importantly, this is a big weekend because the U.S. Army is celebrating 237 years strong this weekend. It’s the U.S. Army’s birthday, and it would really be special if I could drive the Soldiers’ car into victory lane at my home track. I say it all the time, but I’m obviously proud to represent the Soldiers and the Army. The education programs that we do to help them and explaining to kids that it’s an opportunity for their future – that’s something I’m definitely proud to be the spokesperson for. To meet the Soldiers is really something that I can’t put into words. It’s just a really unique relationship, and I do my best to represent them both on and off the racetrack, to represent Army Strong – that mental, physical and emotional strength, a strength like no other. I just hope this weekend I can honor over a million people who fight for our freedom each and every day with a win. To me, that would be the perfect way to say both ‘thank you’ and ‘happy birthday.’”

What are your thoughts on Michigan being repaved?

“As far as I’m concerned, we all like the old asphalt. That and the tire combination made for some of the best racing. But those places have to be repaved. It’s not the first time that Michigan has been repaved, and it’s probably not going to be the last. Even going to places like Daytona, we would rather have it where the cars slide around and the tires are softer and they fall off, and then you really have to drive the racecar. That’s just a factor of the change and the use that we have of the racetrack. Just like every other racetrack, it will change the grip and the tire combination, which will have an effect on the racing. I don’t think we’ve ever gone to a newly surfaced racetrack and run three-wide or had three grooves to work with, so it changes the characteristics of the racing. In saying that, it’s something that has to be done for the future of our sport from a safety standpoint. I know they also work pretty hard there, too, with the weepers and the water drainage, so there are some things I think they’ve learned at other racetracks that they can apply to Michigan to help with the drying process and the safety aspect of it, as well. As drivers, I never like to see them paved. I love them when they’re old and they have character and they’re lacking grip and we can take a tire there that’s pretty grippy and falls off, and that is a good combination for us as drivers, especially for the racing and for the fans. It’s going to be another work in progress for Goodyear to bring and build a tire for a new racetrack of this shape and of this caliber.”

Are you concerned with Michigan becoming a one-groove racetrack after the repave?

“No matter how good of a paving crew there is, it’s still going to end up with character and the character comes with time. They obviously strive to do a perfect job. That’s what their goal is, just like when they pave a highway, to make it perfectly smooth. But that highway gains character over time, as well. We don’t want it to be one groove, obviously. It’s a super-wide racetrack and it’s really a balance of what Goodyear does with the tires it brings there and how they marble up, what kind of debris they throw as far as making it a one-groove track, or giving us the ability to move around and get that clean air and make those passes. At the same time, it ages pretty quickly up there with the weather conditions. Obviously, you get pretty hot summers and some drastic change with the cold winters and everything else. That’s a big reason why it is the way it is right now. Michigan is going to be a whole different animal depending on how we all adapt. I hope with our test day (Thursday) we can get the new track widened out and we see a good race on Sunday.”

You currently hold the track record in qualifying, which will probably fall this year as the speeds have been especially high in testing after the repave. What are your thoughts on the speeds at the track?

“I don’t intend on that changing. It’s going to be interesting to see how the racing is. I thought NASCAR and the track did a really good job at Phoenix with the fresh repave. I know they tested out there. The combination of the tire we have to run at those types of racetracks makes it fast because the tire is so hard, but it also makes it so the tire doesn’t fall off. And, typically, it’s sketchy at times when it gets hot. So it will be interesting to see what the weather brings. It kind of depends on the temperature. If it’s a 90-degree day, the speeds are going to be down quite a bit. If we get a cloudy, 65-degree day, it will potentially be really, really fast. That makes a big difference. The speeds are fast. When you talk about 215, 217 (mph) going into the corners, that’s faster than we’ve ever been anywhere at any time. But my goal is to keep that track record.”

It means something to you to say you have gone faster than anyone else, doesn’t it?

“That’s what it’s all about – bragging rights – when it comes to some of these things, whether it’s qualifying or race wins. I’ve been fortunate enough to win both at Michigan. I would like to keep that going. It’s been a little bit rough for me there, lately. We definitely improved our performance there last season, and we would like to continue to build on that.”

Do you feel like you’re coming home when you come to Michigan? What feelings are conjured up when you come to Michigan?

“My very first Cup crew chief was Matt Borland, and he was from Haslett, Mich. So his slogan, whenever we came to Michigan, was, ‘It’s God’s country,’ and that’s because he’s from Michigan. I spent a lot of time in Michigan at my dad’s shop in Niles. So it is like coming home for me. Before there was Chicagoland Speedway and before there was the Brickyard, to me, Michigan was the Cup track. It was the place we called home. My grandparents had a cottage in southern Michigan. In Indiana, we lived literally a mile from the Michigan state line. So we spent a lot of time in Michigan, and it is really like coming home. The Irish Hills are absolutely beautiful. I really enjoy the area, and it’s much the same to me as it is in Pocono because of its outdoor rusticness.”

This weekend, your sponsor Quicken Loans is also the race sponsor at Michigan. Talk about that.

“To have someone like Quicken Loans jump into the sport the way it has, to see the correlation between what it does with veterans and their mortgages and things like that, it ties everything together. In the end, we’re proud to represent both of our sponsors, and we’re going into Michigan determined to show just how strong and competitive of a team we are. Our goal is to win the race, and we’re going to fight until the checkered flag falls.”