Ryan Newman and the slick looking No. 39 Quicken Loans Carrier Classic Chevy made a great showing at the AAA Texas 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday. After starting 24th, and experiencing a few hiccups that pushed him back to 36th place, Rocket Man managed to rally and finish in 16th.
But, before I continue with the details of the race, I’ll get this out of the way now: I’m new to NASCAR. Sure, I’ve watched the races a few times here and there, I know some of the lingo like “marbles” and “push” and of course “The Chase,” I knew the big names of the sport. Heck, I’ve even seen the movie Cars more times than I can count. But what I didn’t know about NASCAR was just how much science, physics and strategy plays into every second of the race. Honestly, there is a lot more to it than just going around and around in a oval for (what seems like) 19 hours!
At any rate, while I was sorting through the news about Sunday’s race, I learned a lot of really cool information about what happened with Ryan Newman and the No. 39 car on Sunday.
Near the start of the race, Ryan let his crew chief, Tony Gibson, know that the car was driving a bit ‘loose.’ What this means is that the front of the car has more grip, or traction, than the rear and the back tires have trouble maintaining control when they round the corners of the track. This can cause the car to fishtail as the rear end swings out during turns. A car that is too loose can cause the driver to lose control during turns – and that means crash.
So, Ryan went into the pits for a “green flag pit stop.” When a car goes into the pits for service, it immediately gives up its position on the track, and as a result of this stop, Ryan fell back in the pack. His crew changed four tires, added fuel and made a chassis adjustment to hopefully correct the looseness that Newman was feeling on the turns and off he went. But just three laps later, Newman had to head back to the pits because of a vibration and possible loose wheel on the car. 4 new tires, a quick gas up and Newman returned back to the track in 36th place – a two full laps behind the leaders.
Undeterred, Ryan rode hard and was able to make up a full lap. When the first caution flag came out, Newman and Gibson decided not to pit with the rest of the field but took the “wave around.” This meant they would be allowed to pass the pace car just before the green flag comes out again - essentially making up the additional lap he needed to in order to get back on track with the lead lap.
Now here’s something interesting. NASCAR cars only get 5-6 miles per gallon. And typically their fuel tanks hold about 18 gallons. If you do the math, that’s roughly 100 miles (give or take) before they will run out of gas. The drivers have to be mindful of how far they’ve gone, how far they have left to go – and know when to time their pit stops in order to top off on fuel. If you make a miscalculation on your distance or your driving, you could wind up costing yourself the race.
Newman wound up taking a late pit stop when the second caution flag came out on lap 270. He fueled up, got 4 more tires and a chassis adjustment again. 30 laps later, as several of the top cars had to pit for gas, Newman was able to stay on track and move into the lead. But with 11 laps remaining, he had to make the hard decision to head back to the pits for fuel and two more tires.
During this unscheduled stop, he fell to 19th place.
In an awesome show of skill and ability, Ryan rallied and gained 3 positions before the checkered flag signaled the end of the race. Finishing in 16th after a series of unexplained and unexpected problems to the No. 39 car is awesome. I may be new to the sport and may still have a lot to learn, but I am proud of Ryan and the SHR team for his great showing on Sunday.