By Tim HippsFebruary 17, 2009
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Army News Service, Feb. 17, 2009) - Misfortune more than rained on Ryan Newman's parade as the defending race champion finished 36th in the Daytona 500 Feb. 15 while making his debut in the No. 39 U.S. Army Racing Chevrolet.
After wrecks claimed Newman's primary and backup cars during a Gatorade Duel 150 on Thursday and Daytona 500 practice on Saturday, the U.S. Army Racing Team driver had to climb behind the wheel of team owner Tony Stewart's Bud Shootout backup car for Sunday's 51st running of The Great American Race.
To make matters worse, Newman's spin on Saturday - caused by a blown right rear tire - collected drafting partner Stewart's primary car and forced the boss into a backup ride for Sunday's race, forcing both drivers to start from the rear of the 43-car field.
"The right rear tire exploded in the middle of (Turns) one and two," Newman said. "It gave me 100 yards of sign that it might. It started the very, very slightest vibration. I was getting ready to come in and it was too late. It was just unfortunate. We took out my teammate.
"It is a bad situation. I don't really want to be in it. It is hard to talk about. We will do what we can with this U.S. Army Chevrolet."
Newman's troubles actually began during practice on Wednesday that forced his team to change engines, which cost him a starting spot in the front row of the second Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500. He again was relegated to the rear of the field.
"It's just been a tough week for the U.S. Army Team," Newman said. "We had multiple issues to deal with, including two wrecks before we even started today's race. But this is the Soldiers' team and we'll come back fighting even harder next week."
During the Gatorade Duel, Newman got three wide and tried to make a pass on the low side but was bumped from behind by David Reutimann's No. 00 Toyota, which sent Newman's car spinning directly into the outside wall.
"Wrong place, wrong time," Newman said after retreating from trackside, where he gestured toward Reutimann after climbing from the mangled car. "The U.S. Army Chevrolet was good. We were making our way to the front and taking our time. I was patient the whole race.
"Reutimann is a good name for him because he root the man right out of the way and bounced me right up into the wall and that was the end of our day."
Newman was not injured, but the Army team had to work overtime to get the backup car ready. Two days later, they were forced to prepare a third car, from which little was expected.
"This will exemplify what it means to be U.S. Army strong," Newman said.
In the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Newman, who had tire problems throughout the week, pitted to change the right front during the first caution of the race after Aric Arimola spun the No. 8 Chevrolet on Lap 9. During another pit stop on Lap 71, Newman's crew had jack issues that left him two laps down.
"We were patient in the beginning because we needed to get a feel for the car and the track," Newman said. "We were pretty good until we had to come in for a loose wheel. Then we had a miscue on pit road. We fell two laps down and it was a struggle from that point on."
On lap 125, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got into the back of Brian Vickers, who blocked him below the yellow line, igniting a melee that collected 10 cars. Newman shot through the wreckage unscathed and looked like he might have a fighting chance to gain a lap.
"That's the first wreck I missed this week," Newman joked over the radio to his crew.
Five laps later, Newman was drafting Earnhardt's rear bumper on the inside line alongside the frontrunners in a desperate effort to get a lap back, but their pursuit was futile as the impending rain quickly approached the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
"The rain obviously hurt us because we needed more time if we were going to get those laps back," Newman said. "We knew we had our backs to the wall, but still felt we could have a good run today. The guys worked hard to get this car ready in a short time. I am so proud of them."
Newman also tipped his cap to Matt Kenseth, who won the rain-shortened race.
"I want to congratulate Matt Kenseth," Newman said. "He's a good friend and I am happy for him. I know what he's feeling right now."