It seems appropriate that Ryan Newman calls Darlington (S.C.) Raceway his favorite stop on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.
As the story goes, the 1.366-mile oval is uniquely configured thanks to a pond that the owner refused to relocate when constructing the racetrack in the late 1940s. The track’s architect made one end of the track tight, narrow and high-banked while the other he made wide, sweeping and flat.
The resulting egg-shaped oval has created quite the challenge for engineers, crew chiefs and drivers for decades. But the small pond located right outside the racetrack was not disturbed and could still be fished.
Not surprisingly, Newman, the South Bend, Ind., native, ranks the South Carolina racetrack among his favorites, considering he’s an avid outdoorsman who has been fishing as long as he has been racing – since the tender age of 4.
But it isn’t simply the fact there’s a pond right outside the racetrack that makes Newman look forward to the 63rd annual running of the Southern 500.
While he’s fished the pond, his affinity for the place is mostly because of its on-track action.
For Newman, there’s nothing quite like the challenges of racing at Darlington, where drivers and their teams are constantly adjusting to the tires, the bumps and the overall character of the racetrack – and racing that predominantly occurs just inches from the outside SAFER Barrier.
From racing the racetrack to racing the 42 other competitors on the track, Newman says there’s none better on the circuit. It’s the most challenging and the most rewarding. It’s also one of the most historic Sprint Cup races, which is why a win at the Southern 500 ranks among the top wins a driver can earn, in Newman’s opinion.
While the 11-year Sprint Cup veteran has yet to find victory lane at the 1.366-mile oval, he has amassed impressive stats at the “Track Too Tough To Tame.”
Newman has scored top-five finishes in more than half of his 13 starts at Darlington, with seven top-five finishes and nine top-10s.
His best finish at Darlington came during his rookie campaign in the fall 2002 Southern 500. In just his second start at the legendary racetrack, Newman was 12th on the grid, led one lap and finished second to Jeff Gordon. Newman also has one third-place finish (spring 2004), two fourth-place efforts (2007 and 2009) and three fifth-place finishes (spring 2002, 2005 and 2011) at Darlington.
And since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, Newman & Company has produced solid performances in each of its three outings at the racetrack. Newman has not started worse than sixth in the No. 39 car, nor has he finished worse than ninth. He has two top-five finishes and three top-10s in the three starts.
After an engine failure relegated him to a disappointing 36th-place finish last Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Newman is ready to get his No. 39 WIX Filters Chevy back up front and contending for a win this weekend.
With Newman’s recent history at Darlington, this could be the place for him to add his name to the impressive list of drivers who have made NASCAR history by winning the Southern 500.