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Q&A with Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman took part in a teleconference today with Northern California media members in advance of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway, June 19-21 (Father’s Day weekend). A transcript of the teleconference is below.

Ryan, with Father’s Day approaching and the special relationship you have with you father, Greg, can you explain his role in your racing career, and a special gift you got for him in Michigan in 2004?
RN: My dad spots for me, so I get listen to him and he gets to listen to me talking about the race.  He’s been around my racing career the entire time, and he knows how I typically drive and he knows a lot about racing, he’s been a fan his whole life.  Having him as my spotter is definitely an advantage for me.  Michigan was very special.  I told him, “I’m only going to try to get you one thing today and that’s a win.”  I didn’t get him a card or anything else, I just went out there and drove as hard as I could and we were fortunate enough to get a win and he said that was just what he wanted.  Obviously, it was no small task.

Is the Sonoma race just another race on the Cup schedule, or is it something different that you look forward to?
RN: In all reality, it is another Cup race, but it’s different like you said. It’s the first time we get to run a road course and typically there’s a different type of cream that rises to the top there.  I enjoy it.  I enjoy hustling the racecar around the track, and Infineon’s a good road course.  Personally, I enjoy Watkins Glen (N.Y.) a bit more, but I enjoy them both and I look forward to racing out there.  It’s a big track position race, and fuel mileage has become a big part of the racing there, but it’s the same for everybody.

I know you and Tony Stewart have mentioned that your jobs are a lot easier when you have the right people around you to make the Stewart-Haas team work, but are you still surprised how quickly things have come together?
RN: Well, there’s been a lot of positive energy and people breed that positive energy and our results help built that momentum, and the mentality people have when building race cars makes a big difference.  When we started the season, those guys from Haas Racing had only one or two top-10s in their whole career, so there was a lot of drive to succeed and they’ve done a really good job.  We’re still looking for that first win, and we’ve been close, but it’s just been a lot of fun to do what we’ve done as a team and an organization.

Does that type of positive energy feed off itself?
RN: Once you get the ball rolling, as you long as you keep doing what you’re doing, the ball will continue to roll faster and faster, it’s a nice slope downhill.  It’s a really good feeling. We always talk about it, and there are only so many analogies to describe it.  Being around the people when they’re happy and smiling and things are going right, that’s what really makes the business part of it a lot of fun.

I know there was a recent town hall meeting with NASCAR to discuss the direction of the sport.  Are you concerned at all about the direction NASCAR is heading?
RN: I wouldn’t’ say it’s bothering me, and anything that continues to grow, there’s always a sense of concern.  We’re trying to maintain our growth rate and our expansion as far as fans and things like that.  If you look at the United States as a whole, anything that’s an extracurricular activity is down based on the economy and situations that we’re in.  So, we’re just trying to do what we can as drivers, team owners and sponsors to deliver to the fans what they need and being more effective and efficient in that delivery. Obviously, in the end the final result is, are we servicing the fans the way we need to? I’m glad we sat down and had that meeting. It was the first time for me and a really good meeting, I thought.

Do you feel that it’s only the economy that’s affecting NASCAR right now?
RN: Well, The economy drives a lot of things, so there are other things at work, but the economy has been driving a lot of the situations that many sports and many businesses are in right now. 

NASCAR’s been on such a growth spurt, was it bound for a plateau?
RN: Everything is.  Everything cycles.  Whether it’s the weather or growth spurts within different sports.  NASCAR’s done a really good job at controlling that growth spurt and capitalizing on it.  The idea now is to continue to grow, and control the rate in respect to how we deliver it to the fans.

Do you think we’ll see more changes to the racing itself?
RN: I wouldn’t anticipate anything. I think you can have too much change, but I think this is a good change with the restarts.  I look forward to it.  I think it added a little extra excitement to racing a Pocono last weekend. We’ll see how it goes in respect to road courses and short tracks.

Can you talk a little about how you came together with Tony Stewart?  Did he approach you?  Did your father give you any advice?  It looks like the makings of a dream team.
RN: Tony and his people actually came to me first and we started talking about it. Ironically, it was right after I won the Daytona 500 in 2008.  In the grand scheme of things, I had a lot of people I talked to and a lot of people who talked to me.  When you make a big decision, it’s important to get your friends’ and family’s opinions, and I was fortunate to have a lot of people to talk to in respect to that.  As far as the dream team, you guys can talk about that all you want, but it’s been a lot of fun and I look forward to continued success with Stewart Haas racing.

Is there anything special you do to prepare for the race at Infineon Raceway?
RN: Not a whole lot, honestly.  We just did two days of testing at Virginia International Raceway this week, so aside from me getting used to shift patterns in the car and how the Hendrick chassis flexes, that’s been pretty much it.  Just once we get there, we attack and do our thing.

Can you talk about how you approach a road-course race both from a mental and physical perspective?
RN: It’s really a lot of fun to hustle the car around the racetrack in general, and I really enjoy it.  Physically it’s very demanding and mentally, as well.  Just doing what you can to save fuel on a road course, which is one of the hardest things you can ever do inside a racecar, in my opinion. I just look forward to coming out there and racing. It’s a big track position game, and if you qualify well, you have a chance to race well.  If you don’t, your challenge will be to make a bunch of passes and race hard all day.

Any idea of what fans might expect with double-file restarts on road courses?
RN: The excitement is going to come at the end of the race when we have double-file restarts and the mentality is different.  We’ve always had double-file restarts at the beginning of the race, but people are careful and want to finish the first lap.  I think it’ll be opening a new can of worms when we get to Sonoma for those late-race restarts.  Double-file is going to be interesting.

Have you noticed any difference in Tony Stewart as a team co-owner, and do you think other drivers might want to pursue that pattern in the future?  Would you?
RN: Tony’s definitely having a lot of fun, that goes without saying based on his performance.  He’s done a lot of great things as a person and teammate.  For me, it’s not one of my aspirations. I wouldn’t rule it out, but it’s not one of my goals as a person or driver right now.  I’m happy doing what I’m doing. He’s given me a lot of great opportunities and I’ll keep dancing to this song as long as the music is playing.

Given what you’ve seen in the other drivers over the last month or so and previous road-course races, who do you think are the drivers to beat in Sonoma?
RN: Kyle Busch is obviously going to be tough, he won both road-course races last year. It’s a track-position game, so you never know who’s got some good fuel mileage, too.  Jimmie Johnson is pretty good.  Jeff Gordon’s always been pretty good at Sonoma. Tony’s a great road course racer, and you’ve got some of ringers and on top of that Robby Gordon and Marcos Ambrose.  You never know, it’ll be a fun race.

You started racing when you were four-and-a-half years old. Is that all you needed to realize that this is what you wanted to do as a career?
RN: I don’t think you realize at four that’s what you want to do.  At four you want to have fun and play, and racing was my outlet for that.  I enjoyed it, and once I got a little older – eight, nine, ten years old – that’s when I realized there was a future to do that.  For me, it was when I got a little older, but it all started when I was four and a half.

Your dad once mentioned that right after you were born practically, he thought “we’ve got ourselves a race-car driver,” but he was never overbearing or anything, right?
RN: It’s what I wanted to do.  I played some basketball in grade school and my dad actually tried to take racing away at one point to see if that’s what I really wanted to do, and it was.  He wanted to make sure that it wasn’t something he was pushing me to do, that it’s what I wanted as much as him, and I did.  I appreciate that, in hindsight.

There’s obviously lots of sacrifice that goes in to building a racing career.
RN: Money is one thing and time is another.  My dad put a lot of time in to make the money, and helping with the racecars and the family.  My sister helped a lot doing chores around the house because my dad was busy at the shop making money and giving us the opportunity to go travel and race. There are sacrifices with anything that’s successful, whether you’re a family in tennis or baseball or whatever, there’s always a sacrifice, it’s always part of it, it’s just a matter of enjoying it once you’ve gotten there to overcome that.

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