Newman Jumps Up To Cup

Ryan Newman is the latest in what seems like an endless stream of USAC open-wheel stars moving into the world of fenders and bumpers in NASCAR.

Newman, who drives for the powerful Penske South Racing team in the ARCA Series, will follow in the footsteps of former USAC stars Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Ken Schrader when he makes his Winston Cup debut this weekend.

Newman will pilot Penske’s No. 02 ALLTEL Ford in the Checker Auto Parts/Dura Lube 500K at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday.

"We’re looking to be competitive in the race, hold our own and make a respectable showing for the very first time out," said Newman, who will start Sunday's race 10th after turning in a 133.033 mph lap on Friday afternoon. "We know that this is the most competitive stock car racing in the world, and we’ve perhaps set some pretty high goals for the weekend.

"But, we’re as prepared as possible and feel ready to go out and make it all happen."

On Friday afternoon, Newman and the team made it all happen during qualifying.

"We picked up a couple of 10ths of a second from practice, so that's a great deal for us," Newman said. "This Penske team has worked really hard, and this is really exciting for me and the team."

The reigning USAC Silver Crown titleholder, Newman has won two of the five ARCA races he’s entered this season. On Oct. 2 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, he shattered the stock-car record set by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in May by running a 186.780 mph lap in earning the pole. The next day, the record stood after a full round of Winston Cup qualifying failed to produce a new track record. That performance turned heads and opened eyes.

Now, Newman sets his sights on NASCAR’s big league. And he’ll do it at a place that’s familiar to him, which may help ease his transition from lightning-quick and agile USAC cars to the lumbering, 3,400-pound Cup giants.

"I have quite a bit of experience on the track in midget and Silver Crown cars," said Newman, who has also tested at PIR. "Our team was extremely pleased with the testing we had at Phoenix. We ran a fast lap of 27.23 (seconds) in our simulated qualifying run and that would have gotten us into the top 10 in last year’s qualifying for the race. We made some significant runs with our race setup and were really happy with that, too.

"I absolutely love racing on the Phoenix track. It’s a real driver’s track and offers the kind of challenge I really like."

Along with his testing and track experience, Newman will have former Winston Cup champ and 53-time Cup winner Rusty Wallace to lean on.

"Ryan’s got a ton of talent, no doubt about that," said Wallace, who last year drove the car Newman will drive Sunday. "He’s been impressive every time out, and to have won two of three races and get two poles and two outside poles is amazing.

"What really impresses me most about Ryan is his dedication to being a team player. He knows that I’m always here to help out, and I’m super proud to have him as my teammate at Penske South Racing."

In at least one respect, however, Newman already sounds like a veteran of Wallace’s stature.

"Oh, I’ll admit that I’ll have butterflies and all," the 22-year-old said. "But once they throw that green flag and the battle begins, I only have one thing on my mind, and that’s getting to the front, staying there and winning the race ... regardless of what kind of race car that I’m sitting in."

It’s a good thing, too, because in 2001 Newman will need a scorecard to keep track of his cars. Next season, Newman is scheduled to compete in four ARCA races, 12 Busch Series races and seven Winston Cup events. His appearance in Phoenix this weekend is his first step toward a full-time Cup ride in 2002 with Penske.

"Ryan Newman is certainly one of the special young talents on the American racing scene today," said Roger Penske, who just celebrated a CART FedEx Championship Series title Sunday with driver Gil de Ferran. "He’s a proven winner who has successfully demonstrated his driving skills in both the open-wheel and stock car arenas.

"The combination of ALLTEL and Penske Racing to support this new phase of Ryan’s career provides the solid foundation we needed to get him to the next level of competition."

The Checker Auto Parts/Dura Lube 500K starts at 2 pm. Eastern on Sunday.

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