Army's driver set to defend Daytona 500 crown
February 9, 2009
By Tim Hipps
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Feb. 9, 2009) -- The "Rocketman" is ready for Daytona 500 takeoff in the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet.
Ryan Newman, nicknamed "The Rocketman" because of his knack for winning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole positions, posted the third-fastest time Sunday in pole qualifying for the 51st running of the Daytona 500.
Newman's Impala SS averaged 187.778 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile tri-oval at Daytona International Speedway for a 47.929-second lap, just one-hundredth of a second behind former Army driver Mark Martin, who captured the outside starting spot on the front row in 47.919 seconds.
Only the top two starting positions for the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing were secured on Sunday. Martin Truex Jr. won the pole with a 47.872-second lap at 188.01 miles per hour.
"We came off the truck fast," said Newman, who passed his new team owner, Tony Stewart, on the last lap to win the 2008 Daytona 500. "We were fifth fastest yesterday in practice and beat a couple of good guys today that we didn't beat yesterday.
"I am really proud of the effort these guys are putting in on this U.S. Army Chevrolet. Tony Gibson (crew chief), Tony Stewart, and all the people back at the shop have put a lot of hard work in during the off-season to make this happen.
"We are trying to represent a million Soldiers and make them proud," added Newman, 31, a native of South Bend, Ind. "This is a good start."
Newman will resume his quest Thursday in the Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying races that will set the remainder of the starting grid for the Daytona 500. Those races will begin at 2 p.m. and be televised by Speed Channel.
Newman is attempting to become the first repeat winner of the Daytona 500 since Sterling Marlin accomplished the feat in 1994 and 1995.
Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs an honor, first of all, just to be able to go back and try to Aca,!" itAca,!a,,cs weird, IAca,!a,,cve achieved a goal, but I want to go back do the exact same thing all over again,Aca,!A? Newman said. Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs like IAca,!a,,cve never won it. IAca,!a,,cve got that much fight.Aca,!A?
This time, however, Newman will climb behind the wheel for the Stewart-Haas Racing Team, backed by the U.S. Army and Haas Automation.
Aca,!A"Going from something in the business world to the people world in having the United States Army on my car, youAca,!a,,cre representing people, youAca,!a,,cre representing the fight for freedom, youAca,!a,,cre representing a million people who are going into battle and risking a lot for our freedom,Aca,!A? Newman said of switching from the No. 12 Alltel Dodge, in which he won the 2008 Daytona 500, to the U.S. Army ride.
Aca,!A"At the same time, youAca,!a,,cre trying to raise awareness for our future generations of people to be enlisting and following through to continue to fight for our freedom.Aca,!A?
Newman already visited troops at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he experienced the uncanny feeling of hovering in a wind tunnel.
Aca,!A"The wind tunnel deal was the coolest part,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"Just basically getting to fly and being taught how to fly was really neat. Shooting the big guns was really cool, and doing some of the drills there and going through the dry runs of their missions of fighting terrorists Aca,!" just how they drill, promote safety, all the technology that they have, and how everybody works together is pretty neat.
Aca,!A"I want to be able to experience what the Army people do, from the top to the bottom, as far as responsibilities so that I can more adequately and realistically talk about it and share my feelings and share my input and share the experiences that IAca,!a,,cve had with everybody.
Aca,!A"Having their name on my car is going to take everything to a higher level.Aca,!A?
Armed with a degree in vehicle structural engineering from Purdue University, Newman has an advantage over most drivers when it comes to knowing what makes race cars fly around and maintain speed on race tracks.
Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs not the direct work connection advantage that you would think it is,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"When you go to college, no matter what your major is, you become better-rounded. I always say the two things that I learned from college werenAca,!a,,ct engineering or math or physics, it was time management and problem solving, and that is rationale for accomplishing things in everyday life.Aca,!A?
Newman sped onto the NASCAR Sprint Cup scene in 2002 and set rookie records for the most top-10 finishes (22) and the most poles (six) in a single season. He finished sixth in the point standings and narrowly edged Jimmie Johnson for Rookie of the Year honors.
In 2003, Newman avoided the proverbial sophomore slump and again led all drivers on the circuit with 11 poles and a series-high eight victories. With another sixth-place finish in the point standings, he was named the 2003 SPEED Driver of the Year, the National Motorsports Press AssociationAca,!a,,cs Richard Petty Driver of the Year, the Benny Kahn/Daytona Beach News-Journal Driver of the Year, and The Sporting NewsAca,!a,,c Dale Earnhardt Toughest Driver of the Year.
The Rocketman moniker has stuck with Newman throughout his career. ItAca,!a,,cs a nickname he constantly strives to maintain.
Aca,!A"Without a doubt,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"I like it because itAca,!a,,cs original and itAca,!a,,cs something that I feel like I earned. ItAca,!a,,cs not something that I self-proclaimed. It wasnAca,!a,,ct just handed to me.Aca,!A?
Likewise, Newman earned the right to replace Martin in the U.S. Army Chevy.
Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm where I want to be, to be able to grow and expand and accomplish the things that I havenAca,!a,,ct yet,Aca,!A? Newman said. Aca,!A"But the goal for Daytona is to win Aca,!" just repeat. I just want to put the Army Chevrolet in Victory Lane.Aca,!A?