KANNAPOLIS, N.C. -- Two-hundred and thirty-seven years ago, our nation's leaders established the Continental Army, beginning a rich heritage of successfully defending this great country and her citizens.
This weekend at Michigan International Speedway, Ryan Newman and Stewart-Haas Racing will help celebrate the continued honor, loyalty and bravery of our soldiers in this noble calling as Newman takes the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet into the Quicken Loans 400 on Sunday.
"This weekend is special for a lot of reasons," Newman said. "Michigan is one of the first places I ever came and saw a NASCAR Sprint Cup race as a fan. I've always considered it home, so it is just kind of like coming back home for me. But, most importantly, this is a big weekend because the U.S. Army is celebrating 237 years strong. It's the U.S. Army's birthday, and it would really be special if I could drive the soldiers' car into Victory Lane at my home track."
Since its inception in June 1775, the U.S. Army has served as the backbone of our nation. And since taking the wheel of the soldiers' car in 2009, Newman has had the opportunity to witness first-hand the courage and selfless service of the Army Strong soldiers he represents. South Bend, Ind., native Newman wears the U.S. Army logo that adorns the chest of his uniform and the hood of his racecar with great pride.
As such, a victory in the Quicken Loans 400 would be the ultimate "thank you" Newman could offer -- something Newman has done 16 times in his Sprint Cup career, twice at Michigan.
Those Michigan wins came in successive visits to the 2-mile, D-shaped oval (August 2003 and June 2004). In 2003, Newman started on the outside pole and led 32 laps en route to the win. In 2004, he started fourth and led 22 laps on his way to taking the checkered flag. Augmenting those triumphs is a pole (June 2005) and five top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 22 career Sprint Cup starts.
But a new challenge awaits the team at Michigan -- fresh pavement. The fresh grip that will be available through the newly repaved track's sweeping corners has enabled drivers in recent testing to tour the 2-mile oval at speeds of up to 215 mph approaching the corners, which is roughly 25 mph faster than the average pole speed for the Sprint Cup race at Michigan last August.
"As far as I'm concerned, we all like the old asphalt. That and the tire combination made for some of the best racing. But those places have to be repaved," Newman said. "It's not the first time that Michigan has been repaved, and it's probably not going to be the last. It will change the grip and the tire combination, which will have an effect on the racing. I don't think we've ever gone to a newly surfaced race track and run three-wide or had three grooves to work with, so it changes the characteristics of the racing.
"As a driver, I never like to see them paved. I love them when they're old and they have character and they're lacking grip and we can take a tire there that's pretty grippy and falls off, and that is a good combination for us as drivers, especially for the racing and for the fans. It's going to be another work in progress for Goodyear to bring and build a tire for a new race track of this shape and of this caliber."
One of Newman's biggest concerns will be the track will become a one-groove race track over time, but Newman admits Michigan's unique weather should prevent that from happening.
"We don't want it to be one groove, obviously. It's a super-wide race track and it's really a balance of what Goodyear does with the tires it brings there and how they marble up, what kind of debris they throw as far as making it a one-groove track, or giving us the ability to move around and get that clean air and make those passes," Newman said. "At the same time, it ages pretty quickly up there with the weather conditions. Obviously, you get pretty hot summers and some drastic change with the cold winters and everything else.
That's a big reason why it is the way it is right now. Michigan is going to be a whole different animal depending on how we all adapt. I hope with our test day [Thursday] we can get the new track widened out and we see a good race on Sunday."
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