Monday, June 18, 2007

Newman's promising weekend derailed

Monday, June 18, 2007
By Steve Kaminski
The Grand Rapids Press

BROOKLYN -- Ryan Newman's mother, Diane, sat down on a swivel chair atop her son's pit box and slowly rocked left to right, right to left, and left to right again.

Newman's wife, Krissie, grabbed a seat, too, and she fidgeted with her cell phone.

Race time was fast approaching.

Penske Racing South president Don Miller, team crew chief Mike Nelson and race engineer Travis Geisler sat glued in front of computers, with everything from a weather map, the starting lineup and the TNT television feed displayed on their monitors.

Moments later, the 43-car field took the green flag and raced down the Michigan International Speedway front stretch for the start of the Citizen's Bank 400 on Sunday.

Maybe it wasn't the best seat in the house. You could see only turn one and part of the front stretch, and you had to turn around and check out the Jumbotron to see what was going on down the back stretch.

However, if you wanted to know what was happening in Newman's world, this was the place to be.

The folks at Alltel, which sponsors Newman's No. 12 Dodge on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, invited me to watch Sunday's race from atop their pit box. Before that, they arranged an interview with Newman before Friday qualifying and time with the crew Sunday morning as they set up for the race.

Car fast, lifestyle not

The plan was to give me a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on during race weekend for a Nextel Cup team. I like what I saw.

First, a few things about Newman.

Maybe you think all Nextel Cup drivers live a jet-set
lifestyle, and I'm sure some do. Not Newman.

Do you know what Newman likes to do if he gets a break on
race weekend? He goes to junkyards.

"Usually you get Saturday afternoon off and you are able to do something fun, and I like to go fishing or to car shows," said Newman, 29. "I like to go to junkyards and look at the old cars. We have had bonfires."

What also impressed me about Newman is he does the best he can to be accessible to his fans, and simply signing a few autographs won't do. He hosts a weekly podcast at and breaks down previous races, previews ones coming up and shares insight on his life and team.

As far as the team, it is professional all the way. Sunday had to be one of the team's most disappointing races of the season, but everyone kept their cool on a hot day.

Newman and his crew were confident they could win their first race since 2005. He had finished second in each of the past two races and had climbed to 13th in Nextel Cup points.

Case of bad luck

But things went bad 12 laps into the race when Newman suffered a cut tire. He nursed his car back into the pits, where rear tire changer Joe Piette desperately tried to pull off a piece of the destroyed rubber, which had wrapped around a caliper.

Piette looked like he was trying to rip a cheeseburger out of Rosie O'Donnell's hands, it was that difficult. Newman lost three laps in the pits, then lost one more lap later after being collected in an accident. He finished 37th.

A promising weekend went bad quickly, but there were no meltdowns.

"We had a real good car, but we didn't have a car that could have beat Carl Edwards today," Newman said. "We just caught a piece of debris or something, and it popped the tire."

Edwards snapped his 52-race winless drought when he held off Martin Truex to win Sunday's race.

Newman, a 12-time winner in Nextel Cup, hasn't won in 60 races. But, like Edwards, his day is coming.

No comments: