Ryan Newman has had some rough rides at restrictor-plate tracks over the years. He also owns a signature victory on one — the 2008 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, site of tonight's Coke Zero 400.
So, does that one victory, in the 50th running of NASCAR's biggest race no less, mean he has made peace with the unpredictable world of restrictor plates? Or do they still owe him one?
"I wouldn't say they still owe me, and I wouldn't say the win makes up for the craziness we had," Newman said last week. "The win was great, we did it as a team with the 1-2 finish, for (then-owner) Roger Penske's first restrictor-plate win. But … I've been upside down, on fire, landed on my lid. Nothing makes up for those types of instances. But it was the biggest win of my career."
In February, he led the most laps in the 500 and was running in the front pack until a wreck with four laps to go ended his chances; he finished 22nd. That wreck, one of several he has had at NASCAR's fastest tracks, was nothing compared to some of his previous scares at restrictor-plate events.
In 2009 at Talladega he flipped in the infield atop the hood of Kevin Harvick's car, skidded on his roof back up the track into the outside wall, then skidded back into the grass — still on his roof — before pirouetting a couple of times and winding upside down. In 2003 at Daytona his car did several barrel rolls through the infield.
Still, though that 2008 Daytona win is Newman's only one on a plate track, there are reasons for the Indiana native and 14-time Sprint Cup race winner to be optimistic tonight. His Stewart-Haas team, owned by teammate Tony Stewart, has Hendrick Motorsports engines behind it. Newman is 10th in points, the final automatic qualifying spot for the season-ending Chase for the Championship with 10 races left before the cutoff.
And those huge packs of 30 or more cars that used to lead to one giant wreck after another, the dreaded "big one," has been replaced in plate races by two-car tandems that often race with more separation. The cars push each other and have to switch places often so the pushing car can avoid overheating, but drivers have exhibited mastery of the skill this season.
"It's (something) we needed to have, drivers to be more involved," Newman said. "For sure it's better than being four wide, four deep, being stuck in New York traffic. It totally changes everything."
And the man with a vehicle structural engineering degree from Purdue didn't need to get too technical in explaining the new trend either.
"In layman's terms it's because it's faster," he said. " … It makes a world of difference — in seconds, not tenths of a second."
Newman, 33, had a chance to revisit his most cherished Daytona memory last week during a promotional tour at the track.
"They had a whole section of the archives set up for the 50th running … that makes it unique," he said.
And if the restrictor-plate thing still isn't to his liking? Looking through those archives of racing at Daytona, including the beach-course era that predated the 2.5-mile speedway, led to a fun suggestion.
"I was telling (track president) Joie (Chitwood), we need to do a convertible race on the beach," Newman said. "We'd put on a show for some fans."