JOLIET, Ill., Sept. 13, 2011 -- U.S. Army driver Ryan Newman is one of the combatants in what is shaping up to be a heavyweight bout as NASCAR's top-12 drivers are primed to battle it out in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
The first race in the playoff-style championship will be Sunday's GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Newman's No. 39 U.S. Army Medicine Chevrolet for the Chase opener will pay tribute to the U.S. Army Medical Department and the men and women of the Army Health Care Team, which consists of Dental Corps, Medical Corps, Medical Service Corps, Medical Specialist Corps, Nurse Corps and Veterinary Corps.
Newman's presence in this year's Chase marks the fourth time in eight years that he has qualified for the championship run. He enters the Chase as the eighth seed with 2003 points. He was awarded an additional three bonus points for his July victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
"It's exciting to be in the Chase, we worked hard all year to accomplish this goal," said Newman, who has scored one win, eight top-fives and 13 top-10s in the first 26 races. "We were disappointed last year about not making the Chase (finished 13th in pre-Chase points) and during the offseason we evaluated where we went wrong and one area was the 1.5 to two-mile tracks."
"We've made a pretty good improvement at those tracks this year and five of the 10 Chase races will be at the mile-and-a-half tracks," he said. "What has me pumped is that we have an opportunity for our Soldiers to win a championship that they deserve."
The first 1.5-mile track in the Chase will be Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, where Newman has posted one win (2003), two top-fives and five top-10s in nine starts. He has claimed three top-10s in the last four races at Chicagoland.
In the previous 10 Cup races leading up to this year's Chase, Newman has enjoyed consistency, posting an average finish of 10.2.
"Consistency is needed to win the championship, but I don't think a 10.2 average will be good enough in the final 10 races," said Newman. "My best guess is that it's going to take a finishing average of at least seven or better. We've been consistent as of late, but we need to step it up a few notches during the Chase. Avoiding mechanical issues and accidents to our Army Chevrolet are vital if we want to win the championship."
In his three previous Chase appearances, Newman's finishing point positions were: seventh (2004), sixth (2005) and ninth (2009).
"Based on how we have performed lately I feel we have a legitimate shot at winning the championship," stated Newman. "However, there are 11 other drivers and teams saying the same thing. In the end, it's going to come down to the team making the fewest mistakes, along with being on the receiving end of a few good breaks. We all won a battle, but only one will win the war."