Sunday, June 05, 2011
Ryan Newman running Kansas race in a truly used car
"This car has a lot of good karma to it,'' crew chief Tony Gibson says of the vehicle.
Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman brings a car to Kansas Speedway that has been raced for 5,768 miles and, including practice laps, has been driven 7,529 miles for today's race.
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- In a telltale sign of aging, silver sprouts where black once was. Such a change to a person's hair color can lead to them being viewed as distinguished, a nice description for sure, unless one feels young at heart.
The same can be true, in a way, for a car.
It's fitting that more silver was added this season to the paint scheme for one of Ryan Newman's sponsors. The chassis he'll race today at Kansas Speedway is among the oldest in the field. This marks its 15th start since 2009, making it truly a used car.
"We've never raced ours [that long],'' Jamie McMurray said.
In an era where teams debut a new chassis (the car's skeleton) every few races, Newman's ride is like an aging thoroughbred running against stallions.
All 12 points races this Sprint Cup season have been won by cars making their fourth start or less. Half of those wins came when the chassis made its maiden run. Points leader Carl Edwards will be making his eighth start this season today with a new chassis.
Yet, there's a reason why Newman's crew chief, Tony Gibson, keeps picking chassis No. 39-531 to run instead of making it a backup or, as is the case for most cars this old, serve as a show car that goes from city to city so fans can see and touch it.
The car still can run.
"This car has a lot of good karma to it,'' Gibson explains, standing beside the vehicle he would name either Mule for its toughness or Rebound for its ability to recover throughout races.
When the team tried new cars to replace this one, they often weren't as fast. So, the old car, which has been rebuilt, refurbished and repaired, kept going to the track. Newman finished fifth with this car at Las Vegas in March. It starts 12th today.
Even with such success, this car can be as stubborn as a teenager.
"It seems to have its own mind,'' said mechanic Shawn Warren.
It's been that way since the car's debut in the 2009 All-Star race where it showed the spunk and rambunctiousness of a youth looking to play.
Naturally, it didn't obey orders. The ride was so bad that the team changed a shock absorber during the race, as Newman fell nearly two laps behind the leaders. He made it back on the lead lap and roared toward the front.
Newman's energetic car charged to the outside of Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch as they ran three-wide for the lead late in the event. Gordon and Busch made contact, sending Newman's car into the wall. The right-side damage ended Newman's race.
But not the car's spirit.
Gibson had it repaired and ran it three more times that season with a best of sixth at Chicagoland Speedway. Gibson used the car eight times last year and today marks its third appearance of the season. The car has run on either 1.5- or 2-mile tracks.
It's quite a history this car and Newman share. Newman, though, isn't focused on that.
"I have no idea what car we have here,'' he said.
With NASCAR rules limiting the ingenuity in cars, most of the vehicles feel the same to drivers. That makes Newman's ambivalence with which of the 16 cars his Stewart-Haas team has for him understandable.
If only he knew.
He's raced this car 5,768 miles -- that's more than driving from New York to Los Angeles and back. Add all those laps in practice and Newman's driven it 7,529 miles together, a distance similar to going from New York to Paris and back.
It's the moments on their drives together that make this car memorable.
Newman struggled with the car's handling at Michigan in 2009, telling his team it was "sideways loose,'' before a late rally resulted in a sixth-place finish. This car took him to the pole for last year's Coca-Cola 600 in a daring lap that he called "the most courageous'' he's had around Charlotte Motor Speedway. This car made Newman, known as the "Rocket Man,'' look as if he was piloting a rocket when its motor blew and a steady stream of smoke followed like at a launch.
With each race comes another challenge. Cars, like people, gain weight. Newer cars are lighter, allowing teams to add ballast to meet the 3,450-pound minimum weight in areas that will help the car perform.
A car can gain as much as five pounds from race to race because of the required upkeep. Car chief Kevin Pennell calls that weight gain significant.
"You go run around the track 300 times and carry five pounds over your head and see how long you can do it,'' he said. "The car has got to carry that amount of weight all day long.''
As long it stays on its proper diet, performs and isn't heavily damaged in a crash, Gibson might just keep using it.
"When do you put them out to pasture?'' Gibson said, glancing at the car. "I don't know.''