It’s not his 2008 Daytona 500 win, nor is it the 49 pole positions he has collected since making his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Phoenix International Raceway in November 2000. In fact, the greatest accomplishment in Newman’s opinion didn’t even take place at a racetrack.
For Newman, his greatest accomplishment came following years of work in a classroom when he earned his bachelor’s degree in vehicle structure engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., in August 2001. And while Newman has moved on from the physical classrooms he studied in at college, he continues to feed his thirst for knowledge while taking great pride in being a student of the sport that he loves.
Newman has an immense knowledge of the history of motorsports – not just NASCAR, but of a variety of racing series around the globe. Over the years and still today, he meticulously studies the history of motorsports. He has learned name after name of numerous drivers in a variety of series and has put to memory stories of racetracks, racecars and the best races of all time – all of which he can studiously recall.
In Newman’s mind, knowing about and appreciating the sport’s past is just as important as being part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit today. Now, in his 11th full season in the Sprint Cup Series, Newman hopes to etch his own name into the sport’s history books as he competes in the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) Chevrolet to achieve his ultimate goal – a Sprint Cup championship.
Last season, the entire SHR organization had its own history-making season, which started with a banner weekend for the team at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon in July as Newman and his teammate and team owner Tony Stewart started 1-2 and finished 1-2, respectively.
The last time a team started 1-2 and simply finished 1-2, regardless of driver starting and finishing position, was Hendrick Motorsports in the 1989 Daytona 500. However, the last time a team started 1-2 and finished 1-2 with the same drivers in the same order was back on April 7, 1957, at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway with DePaolo Engineering. There, Fireball Roberts won from the pole while teammate Paul Goldsmith started second and finished second.
“New Hampshire was huge for our team and even bigger for our organization,” Newman said. “I don’t know that I realized how big until the next day when I was doing interviews and someone told me the stat about the last time a team started 1-2 and finished in those exact positions. As much as I study the history of this sport, I was stunned by that stat and was really honored that I was part of something so big.”
While Newman and Stewart’s accomplishments forced a re-write of the NASCAR record books, it was Stewart’s epic run to capture the 2011 Sprint Cup championship that will be a legendary piece of the sport’s history. Stewart won an impressive five of the season’s final 10 races to capture his third Sprint Cup title, becoming the first driver-owner to achieve the feat since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
In 2012, Newman looks to improve upon his own record and create his own page in the history books by adding his name to the roll call of drivers known as NASCAR champions. The history books were updated with his name as a winner last season. In 2012, Newman’s goal is to earn the title of champion.
“I think, every year, each driver says that his goal is to win the championship,” Newman said. “I felt like last year we had a championship-contending team going into the Chase, but it kind of spiraled out of control for us and we finished 10th in points. I know we have a better team than that. Our No. 39 team has proven that we can win poles and win races. We’ve been strong at the beginning of the season and at the end of the season, but we haven’t been as consistent as we need to be to fight for the title. We need to find that consistency. This team is capable of a championship run, and this is our season to do it.”
Throughout his career, Newman has been setting records and making his own mark in NASCAR’s storied annals.
In just his third career Sprint Cup start in May 2001 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Newman shot to the top of the speed charts during qualifying and earned the No. 1 starting spot for the Coca-Cola 600, tying the record for the earliest career Sprint Cup pole.
Since that first pole run, Newman has earned 49 pole positions and he has led the series in poles five times (six in 2002, 11 in 2003, nine in 2004, and three in 2011), solidifying the nickname “Rocketman” he was given early in his career. He has earned at least one pole position each year since the 2001 season, when he was running a partial schedule, and is tied for ninth on NASCAR’s all-time pole list while ranking second in poles among the series’ full-time, active drivers.
Newman has proven time and again that starting in the No. 1 spot is a distinct advantage, having scored top-10 finishes in half the races in which he has started from the pole. Along with his superior qualifying ability, Newman has proven to be an equally adept racer, having collected 15 Sprint Cup wins, including the biggest of them all – the 2008 Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
“After that race, I said I could hear my dad’s teardrops over the radio while he spotted for me as I came to the start-finish line to win, and I think that shows the importance of this race to me and my entire family,” Newman said. “I always said that just competing at Daytona was an honor. When I was a kid, my dad would bring me to Daytona for the 500 and we would make fake passes with construction paper and glitter so that I could sneak into the garage and meet the drivers. Years later, being part of that was truly amazing.
“Winning the Daytona 500 was a dream come true. I still can’t put into words how amazing it was to win the 50th Daytona 500 considering all the history and fanfare that was a part of that day. Winning that race was a tribute to my dad and everything he had done for me to support and encourage my career. It was for all the people who had given me a shot – people who had given me monetary support, people who had helped pay for my uniforms, people who let me race their cars. That win was for everyone who had played a role in getting me to where I am today.”
Newman always knew he was going to be a racer, and he began dreaming about collecting trophies in NASCAR and winning the Sprint Cup’s biggest race – the famed Daytona 500 – from the first time he climbed behind the wheel of a racecar. For Newman, those dreams started at age 4 when he drove his first Quarter Midget.
Beginning in 1982, with his first Quarter Midget race in New Carlisle, Ind., Newman wasted no time making his presence known on the track. He was tallying race wins by the time he was 5. By 1986, a 9-year-old Newman had amassed more than 20 wins, won the Kokomo (Ind.) Track Championship and captured the title of Eastern Grand National Quarter Midget Champion in the Junior Stock division.
Throughout the next few years, Newman scored more than 100 feature wins, earned six regional Quarter Midget championships and won another Grand National Quarter Midget championship in the Heavy Mod division in 1988. Newman’s impressive Quarter Midget stats led to his induction into the Quarter Midget Hall of Fame in 1993.
In May 1993, Newman made his move to a full-size Midget car in the All-American Midget Series. He scored one feature win and became the first driver to win both rookie of the year honors and the series championship in the same season. Newman, who was named the Michigan State Midget champion, also captured wins in the United Midget Auto Racing Association, the ARCA Midget Series and the Northern Michigan Midget Auto Racing Series.
Newman moved up to the United States Auto Club (USAC) National Midget division in 1995 and scored nine top-10 finishes in 18 starts en route to rookie of the year honors. He followed that with a rookie of the year title in the USAC Silver Crown division in 1996, where Newman scored four top-10s in 10 starts.
His first major USAC win came in May 1997, when he drove the No. 39 Midget car to victory in the 52nd “Night Before the 500” race at Indianapolis Raceway Park on the Saturday night prior to the Indianapolis 500. It was the biggest win of Newman’s young career and one that he credits with putting him on the map. The prestigious win helped vault Newman into victory lane two more times that year in USAC Midgets.
For Newman, the wins continued to accumulate in the USAC ranks, as he won two more Midget races and one Sprint car race in 1998.
The following season, Newman tackled all three of USAC’s national series – Midget, Silver Crown and Sprint Car. In his Midget car, Newman captured seven wins, nine top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in just 14 starts en route to a second-place points finish. He scored one other win in the Silver Crown car and two runner-up finishes to claim the 1999 Silver Crown championship. Newman also earned one win and seven top-10 finishes in 15 races in the Sprint Car division, where he was named rookie of the year. With that honor, Newman became the only driver to have ever won all three USAC National rookie of the year honors.
Newman’s success in USAC caught the eye of multi-time championship car owner Roger Penske. Newman joined Penske Racing in 2000. While taking classes at Purdue University, Newman competed in all three USAC Series, tested for Penske Racing and began his stock car career with a limited schedule in the ARCA and NASCAR Nationwide Series.
That year, he scored wins in the USAC National Midget Series and the USAC Sprint Car Series and, in just his second ARCA Series start for Penske Racing in July, he won his first stock car race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Newman followed that with two more ARCA wins at Charlotte and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta before he made his Sprint Cup debut in November at Phoenix.
In 2001, Newman competed in two ARCA races, 15 Nationwide Series race and seven Sprint Cup races. He won the season-opening ARCA race at Daytona and captured the pole at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City in his only other ARCA start. Newman won his first Nationwide Series race in August at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn and also won six Nationwide Series poles. In the Sprint Cup Series, Newman scored his first career pole at Charlotte in May while also scoring two top-five finishes, including a second-place effort at Kansas.
By 2002, NASCAR observers were expecting big things from Newman and he did not disappoint. He set rookie records for the most top-10 finishes (22) and the most poles (six) in one season. He also became only the second rookie to win the series’ non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte.
In September of that year, Newman started from the pole and led 143 of 207 laps en route to his first career Sprint Cup victory in a rain-shortened race at New Hampshire. The win, along with his other impressive rookie stats, led Newman to a sixth-place points finish and resulted in him being named the 2002 rookie of the year over Jimmie Johnson in one of the most hotly contested rookie races in history.
Newman’s sophomore campaign was just as impressive as his first season. He once again led the series in poles (11) and he also led the series in victories (eight). Newman again finished sixth in the points standings. The remarkable accomplishments led to him being named the 2003 SPEED Driver of the Year; the National Motorsports Press Association Richard Petty Driver of the Year; the Benny Kahn/Daytona Beach News-Journal Driver of the Year; and The Sporting News’ Dale Earnhardt Toughest Driver of the Year.
In 2004, Newman made the inaugural Chase for the Championship and ended up finishing seventh in points. He had two wins and once again led the series in poles with nine. The following season, Newman earned his second Chase berth and led the series in poles (eight) for the fourth consecutive time, and scored one win. He also made his return to the Nationwide Series in 2005 for Penske Racing, winning six of the nine races he entered. In addition to his six wins, Newman earned four pole positions.
Newman scored seven more poles during the 2006 and 2007 seasons and tallied runner-up finishes in four races, but he and his team failed to win a race or make the Chase.
In 2008, Newman returned to the winner’s circle after an 81-race absence with his win in the 50th Daytona 500. In October of that year at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Newman won his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in his first-ever Truck Series start.
But the fierce competitor wanted more. Contending for race wins every week and challenging for the Sprint Cup championship was what Newman desired. So, in August 2008, he announced his move to newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing – the team co-owned by three-time Sprint Cup champion Stewart and Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the western world.
“I told Tony when I joined his team that the bottom line was that I wanted to have fun racing, and I know that Tony wants the same thing,” Newman said. “He is a hard-nosed racer and a good friend. We have a lot in common with our love of the outdoors and our desire to win races.”
Newman found rejuvenation at SHR in 2009 as he returned to contending for top-fives and wins in virtually every race. He scored two pole positions, five top-five finishes and 15 top-10s – double the numbers he posted the previous year. Newman and Stewart also led the series in laps completed by running 99.8 percent of the laps available in 2009. And although he didn’t reach victory lane, Newman enjoyed a six-week stretch where he didn’t finish lower than eighth. It was during that stretch that Newman scored a runner-up finish – his best finish of the season – in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
The numbers aside, Newman’s biggest achievement of 2009 was reemerging as a weekly contender at the racetrack, where he was a threat for the win each and every week. Thanks to the team’s solid performances, Newman returned to the 12-driver Chase for the Championship for the first time since 2005. He finished the season ninth in points.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect our first year,” he said. “I really just went into it with the mindset of I’m going to do my job, we will focus and work together and just see what happens. I know we surprised a lot of people and I don’t think anybody expected us to accomplish what we did in our first season.”
While Newman & Company didn’t make the Chase for the Championship in 2010, they did find their way back to victory lane in April at Phoenix. It was a bold pit call on the final caution of the night that put Newman in position to capture his first win with SHR, as well as crew chief Tony Gibson’s first win at the helm of a Sprint Cup team.
In addition to the victory, Newman earned his ninth pole position at Charlotte in May and posted four top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 2010. Although Newman failed to qualify for the Chase in the team’s sophomore season, he ended the year on a high note by posting finishes of 11th or better in nine of the season’s final 13 races.
Following the strong run at the end of 2010, Newman and Gibson returned to the racetrack last season with a renewed confidence, which was immediately noticed by competitors. Newman scored four top-10 finishes (three of which were fifth-place efforts) in the first five races of the season. The lone race that the team didn’t finish in the top-10 was the season-opening Daytona 500. The No. 39 Chevrolet was a constant out front and led a race-high 37 laps – a first for Newman at a restrictor-plate track and the first time he had led the most laps in a race since joining the No. 39 team – and looked to be a contender for the win before being collected in a multi-car melee just three laps before the scheduled end of the race.
Newman went on to lead the most laps in two other races in 2011 as well as earn three pole positions, nine top-five and 17 top-10 finishes in addition to his record-setting win at New Hampshire. Newman dominated the race – driving his No. 39 Chevrolet from the pole and leading six times for a race-high 119 laps en route to his 15th career Sprint Cup victory and his second with SHR – which helped him secure a spot in the 2011 Chase for the Championship. Newman finished the season 10th in points.
“For Stewart-Haas Racing to have both our cars in the Chase, to run strong in the final race, and for Tony to win the championship last season after just three years was really a huge deal for our entire organization,” Newman said. “I think it definitely gives us momentum as well as a goal to strive for in 2012. We know we can get both of our cars in the Chase, and we know that we are capable of winning the championship. This year, I think our goal has to be to have both of our cars fighting for the title at the end of the season.”
When not racing, Newman enjoys fishing, restoring his classic cars and tooling around on his hobby farm. The avid outdoorsman, along with his wife Krissie, play an active role in the Ryan Newman Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization they founded in 2005. The mission of the Ryan Newman Foundation is three-fold: to educate and encourage people to spay or neuter their pets and to adopt dogs and cats from animal shelters; to educate children and adults about the importance of conservation so the beauty of the great outdoors can be appreciated by future generations; and to provide college scholarship funding through the Rich Vogler Scholarship program, of which Newman himself was a recipient, to students interested in auto racing careers.
The Newmans reside in Statesville, N.C., with their daughter Brooklyn Sage and five rescue dogs: Mopar, Harley, Socks, Fred and Dunkin.