An Old Favorite
August 26, 2003 | 5:32 P.M. EST
"By far, Darlington is my favorite race track and I must say that and explain why at least two or three times a week," said Newman, who will be making his fifth start there this weekend in the Mountain Dew Southern 500. "Darlington is a lot different racing than you see at most tracks we race at. NASCAR has grown into such a huge business, and they have to cater to a bigger audience now than they did 20 years ago. There are so many parts of the country that have a following of Winston Cup racing and the need to start building tracks and giving or swapping race dates is necessary to make the sport grow even more.
"The problem is, most of these new tracks are what we call 'cookie cutter' tracks. They have many similarities; just in different states. There aren't many tracks we get to race these days that are real racers' tracks like Darlington. Darlington was reversed about four or five years ago, I guess, and they made the backstretch the frontstretch. I never raced on it the old way, so that might be a reason I run good and like it so much."
Ryan Newman's ALLTEL Dodge may have started on the outside of the front row at Darlington Raceway when the Winston Cup Series last raced at the 1.33-mile asphalt oval in March, but his 14th-place finish wasn't something Newman took well.
"Let's just say the last time the ALLTEL team showed up at Darlington, it was with a positive attitude," said Newman. "It wasn't a cocky attitude, but we felt after the first practice, that we were going to win the pole and then go on to win the race. We were close on the pole part, but I messed that up and Elliot (Sadler) took it. I guess he just wanted it more than I did that day. I was happy for him, though, because when a driver wins his first pole it's a big deal, and if your first comes at Darlington - well that's pretty impressive. Darlington isn't an easy track to get around.
"The car I qualified second with in March disappeared pretty quick when the race started. I've never had a car so tight at Darlington before, and it was unbelievably hard to drive, and I fought to drive it all day. The only thing that saved us was the pit stops. If I didn't have good stops that race, I'd have never even had a top-20 finish."
Newman and the ALLTEL team head to Darlington after posting a sixth-place finish last weekend at Bristol with the same car he raced at Darlington in March - PRS-042. Since his second win of the season at Dover in June, Newman and his ALLTEL team have been one of the most dominant teams during the summer stretch. In the last twelve races, Newman has won four races, two Bud Poles, sat on the outside of the front row three times and earned seven top fives and one top ten. If it weren't for the ALLTEL Dodge bursting into flames at Michigan and a 22nd-place finish at Daytona, Newman's statistics would be even better. A win at Darlington would be rewarding to Newman.
"I'd love to get win number six at Darlington," said Newman. "A Darlington trophy would stand for hard work in the driver's seat and in the pit stall by the team. You never win a race at Darlington by playing the fuel mileage game. That's a track you play the tire game. You'll always need tires before you need fuel. Darlington is demanding on a driver and you usually climb out of the car worn out and looking for a lot of Gatorade.
"We're taking the same car we ran here in the first race. It wasn't a bad car, we just didn't hit it right for the race setup, and the car just never loosened up enough to where I could drive it. We didn't do any prior testing for this weekend because we're confident we'll be good to go."
The ALLTEL team's tire specialist Ray Osian agrees with his driver on how Darlington will be won.
"Darlington is hard on tires and all day long Ryan will be told to save tires," said Osian. "A perfect setup is important because if the car is tight, your tires will get eaten up even quicker. Because Darlington is so old, the asphalt was made a lot different than nowadays. It's made with seashells and sand and those seashells eat away at the tires all day. You'll see a lot of guys get up into the wall at Darlington and still go on to win the race. Jeff Gordon has hit going into turn one and four so many times and still has wins. Ryan will be driving right up against the wall all day and he may hit it and keep on going like it's a Sunday drive and not even tell us. But, I can promise you, when his tires start going away, he'll be letting us know in a hurry."
Qualifying for the Mountain Dew Southern 500 to set the 43-car field is scheduled to begin Friday, August 22 at 3:05 p.m. EDT. Sunday's 500-mile, 367-lap race is set to take the green flag at 1:00 p.m. EDT. The event will be televised live on NBC TV and MRN Radio will feature live radio coverage.