Two seasons ago when Ryan Newman decided to leave the security of Penske Racing’s No. 2 Dodge team to move to Tony Stewart’s start-up No. 39 Chevrolet, it left a lot of folks in the NASCAR garage scratching their heads.
Not only did Newman have solid backing with Miller Brewery in the Blue Deuce, he also had an owner with the deepest pockets in all of motor racing in Roger Penske.
And add to that the fact that Newman had developed a reputation as a bit of a hard ass at Penske, especially in his early years there.
Indeed his relationship — or lack thereof — with the veteran Rusty Wallace was nearly catastrophic for the team.
So it at first seemed that Newman was jumping from the frying pan and into the fire when he signed on with Stewart-Haas Racing, where the equally volatile Stewart would be the man in charge.
But going into the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday it appears that Newman and Stewart’s partnership has worked out.
One look at the current Sprint Cup championship points parade shows just that.
Newman, after the first five events of 2011, is just nine points behind leader Carl Edwards and he and Stewart appear to be getting along famously.
He was asked prior to qualifying on Saturday if there was any friction between the pair since Newman finds himself four spots in front of his boss
“No. No. Honestly,” he said. “But, he doesn’t rub it into me when he is ahead of me — so I don’t rub it into him.
“Honestly he sees us as equals when it comes to what we do in the race cars and just because he owns my race car, doesn’t mean I rub it in his face when I am one point or 30 points ahead of him.
“So, if he did rub it into me, I would rub it into him, let’s put it that way. But we would be doing it jokingly, not seriously.”
Newman hopes that after 500 laps at the paper-clip, half-mile oval that both he and Stewart will still be among the top dozen in the Sprint Cup race.
He admits, however, that nothing comes easy at Martinsville.
“I was thinking about it this morning,” Newman said.
“I have been doing it for nine or 10 years now and it is just, after you do it so many times, you just ... have to manage a lot of things.
“You have to manage your brakes; your bumpers; you don’t knock the radiator in; you leave yourself a little bit of room on pit road.
“Just things like that; that you just have to keep thinking about instead of knocking a guy out of the way that won’t move after four laps of following him.”
The key on Sunday, Newman said, will be to get to the front as soon as possible. He said that hanging around in the middle of the pack is simply a recipe for disaster.
“You can be up front and it can just be relaxing because you can just be barely easing in the brakes,” he said. “You’re not driving really hard in the corner. You are not having to out-brake somebody.
“Obviously, if you are out front, you’ve got a good race car. You’ve had a good pit stop; you are in a good position.
“But if you are back in the middle of the storm, you are having to really abuse your race car.”
Newman won’t have too far to go to get to the front when the race starts because he qualified the No. 39 Chevrolet on the outside pole Saturday with a lap of 96.342 m.p.h.
Someone must have spoken to Kimi Raikkonen about the ICE1 team that Foster Gillett was supposedly forming for the former Formula One champion’s NASCAR debut. It was announced Saturday that Raikkonen will instead drive test the NASCAR Camping World No. 18 Toyota Tundra from Kyle Busch’s team at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park oval track in Jefferson, Ga., on Monday. He is expected to get his first start in late May at Charlotte Motor Speedway.