Newman a rising star (again)

By Brant James, Times Staff Writer
Published February 23, 2008

Perhaps Ryan Newman reclaimed his destiny on Sunday by winning the 50th Daytona 500. Perhaps all the promise he showed by winning a Sprint Cup-best eight races his second full season in 2003 will finally come to fruition at the still-young age of 30. Perhaps he can catch up to the more accomplished member of his rookie class, two-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, put the memory of an 81-race winless streak and missing the Chase for the Championship the last two seasons behind him.

Too much, too much, he intimated this weekend. Let this sink in.

But Newman, an always dry, sometimes contrary Purdue-educated engineer, seems more prepared for the instant reapplication of celebrity than at any time in his nine-year career, more comfortable with who he is, he said, as candid as ever but infinitely more open.

"I've had to adjust," he said. "The end of (2006 and 2007) were humbling seasons for me, to know what we've done in the past and have not just myself but other people questioning how good you are and were. That's humbling. I wouldn't say coming out of my shell, it's just learning more who I am and my experiences."


Newman on counterfeiting Daytona 500 credentials with his father, Greg, when he was 15 years old so they could patrol the garage:

"We always had tickets because they were in the family. The idea was to get in the garage. Sometimes we made construction paper ones. I remember stopping at Winn-Dixie on Halifax looking for construction paper. If you were good enough, you could sneak in and figure what credentials looked like and you could make your own. You were really cool if you had a lanyard which you could hide your construction paper in."

Those days are gone forever, aren't they?

"Yeah. Ask Kasey," he grinned, jabbing driver Kasey Kahne for his current legal snare, in which he pleaded innocent to a misdemeanor for allegedly pushing a guard at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November when the guard demanded a credential to enter a restricted area.


With one of North America's two greatest races in his personal win column, can an Indiana boy driving stock cars for one of open wheel racing's most successful owners -- Roger Penske -- resist a bid for the Indy 500 one day? Assuming Newman can wedge his admittedly corn-fed frame into the smallish cars, he could attempt to join Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt as the only drivers to win the Daytona and Indianapolis 500s.

"Honestly, the main goal now is win the Sprint Cup, first and foremost," he said. "That's something I'll wait for Roger to bring up later. Our main effort and main focus is to win that Cup. Great start to it and turn all this positive energy into more efforts to get to victory lane."

So Roger brought it up.

"If he wants a car, we'll provide it for him. You heard it here, Greg," Penske said, gesturing jovially to Newman's father. "You'll be his spotter up there, will you? I'm sure you will be."

Almost with a gulp, Newman responded: "It seems time-wise, impossible to do anymore."

Indeed it is, with the Coca-Cola 600 the same day in Charlotte, though Penske stock car rookie and three-time Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr. still harbors hopes of one day "doing the double:" the Indy 500 at noon and the Coca-Cola 600 at 5:30. Perhaps he and Newman can share a Lear jet.


Care to dance?

Could two-time Indianapolis 500-winner and Penske teammate Helio Castroneves cajole Newman onto a future season with Dancing with the Stars, which the Brazilian won last season?

"Helio's going to get him on Dancing with the Stars next year because he's got such good time management," Penske joked, riffing off Newman's contention that the most beneficial parts of earning a Purdue vehicular structural engineering degree were problem-solving and time management.

"Ask (wife) Krissie," Newman shook his head. "That will not work. I'll make the blooper reel."