12 Questions with Ryan Newman

The 12 Questions interview series continues with Phoenix race winner Ryan Newman, who spoke with me earlier this month at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

50-50. I guess you want to me to elaborate.

If you don’t mind.

I think you have to have a natural ability, otherwise you just aren’t ever going to get it. It’s no different than any other sport or any other pastime or any other job. But at the same time, in order to be as good as other people, you have to work at it. And that all depends on how gifted you are from the beginning. So the most gifted don’t have to work at it as much.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years —

Carl didn’t retire. He has not said the ‘R’ word.

He’s gone for now.

He quit.

He quit.

When you quit, you stop. Which means you might come back. So he hasn’t retired.

So let me rephrase this. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards are not here —

Correct. Even though I just saw Jeff in the bus lot.

OK, let me try this again. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards might be here, but —

They’re not driving. They aren’t driving this weekend.

They might be driving a rental car though, to you use your logic.

They aren’t driving a race car. They aren’t competing on the racetrack this weekend.

OK, that’s fair. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

There is no pitch. You either enjoy racing and you like to watch a good race and you pull for the winner, or you don’t. That’s how Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart and Carl gained their fans. It wasn’t because they just combed their hair a certain way. Really, it’s not. It’s about who you are and how you win.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

It’s a loaded question, because the “hardest” can be the hardest physically or the hardest mentally. To me, it’s more about all the other things that go along with it. As much as I looked forward to signing my first autographs when I started at Penske, it’s not that I hate it now, it’s just that I dislike it. It’s just too redundant; I don’t like redundancy. So I’d say probably redundancy in what I do is probably the thing I dislike the most.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

After I’m done eating, absolutely. That’s what it’s all about. But I enjoy my meal just like they do and don’t want to be interrupted.

So if you have food on your plate, come back a little later.

Right, yeah. There’s a lot of people that get it and there’s a lot of people that don’t get it. And the ones that get it, we appreciate.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I would have to say the depth of what it takes to put on a race. So you talk about the cars, you talk about the spoilers, you talk about the aero package or the restrictor plate or whatever else, but you don’t talk about everything that goes into making it happen — every facet of our shop, the people, what goes into it. It’s more than just a race car showing up on a hauler and 15 guys making it happen. I think that depth is always lost and will probably be always lost to the extent that it needs to be detailed.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

I think it was Stewart.

Does he still count as a driver? You might dispute that logic.

He’s still a driver. He drives.

He’s not a NASCAR race car driver.

No, you said driver. You didn’t say (NASCAR).

See, right there — Monday. (Newman shows a racing cartoon they texted. It’s a picture of a small desert island and one of the guys has a sprint car. The caption says, “Almost every other guy I know would have built a boat.”)

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yeah. I think the byproduct of what we do is entertainment; therefore, we are entertainers. I don’t think it’s our intention to go out and be an entertainer.

I like your logical approach to these answers. You just break it down very precisely.

Well that’s what questions are for — logical approaches.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I use it when necessary.

How often is necessary?

I’m still confused on if you get penalized for it or not. I think it has to be direct. Is that the rule now? Maybe you can clarify.

I don’t think you can get penalized for using your middle finger on the track. If you use it outside the car, I bet they might say something.

You’re still flipping it out the window, so you’re broadcasting it. If you’re flipping off the official, then…

Well, the official, yeah.

Either way, it’s still in the car. There’s a little gray area in there still. They leave it open to potential income.

So if you got some clarification on the rule, you might use it more often.

I don’t like to use it, so…but yes. I would at least like to know what it wouldn’t cost me.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Oh yeah. I mean, that list is way shorter than the other list, but yeah. I remember watching races, when Stewart won his championship there at Homestead, it just seemed like everybody was like, “Go for it, man — it’s all you.” Not to say that was wrong, but there’s times when it definitely looks like your payment comes back to you all at once.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I don’t know. My wife. (Laughs)

 

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

That’s a real good question. I would have to say if I could control my own social media without getting in trouble for controlling my own social media, that would be good.

You’re looking at Traci (Hultzapple), your PR rep.

(To Traci) Right? I mean, you’d like that, but then you wouldn’t like that.

12. The last interview was with Dale Earnhardt Jr., and his question is: “Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?”

Punchable, as in you just want to punch them in the suckhole? I think the majority — and when I say majority, I mean the fans — would say Kyle Busch.

Would you like to punch Kyle in the face?

I have no reason to punch him in the face, but I think if you just go off the majority, then he’s the one.

The next interview is with AJ Allmendinger. Do you have a question I can ask AJ?

AJ, if you could build a racetrack — either a road course or an oval — what would the ideal racetrack be in your mind?

The Top Five: Breaking down the Phoenix race

Each week, I’ll give some race analysis through a post called the Top Five — notable storylines from the just-completed event. This week: Phoenix Raceway.

Newman!

Well, how about THAT? Luke Lambert’s strategy call — which seemed like a total Hail Mary to most of us — actually worked, and Ryan Newman ended up with his first victory since Indianapolis in 2013. That’s 127 races ago! Heck, Richard Childress Racing hadn’t won a race since Kevin Harvick left the team for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Did anyone see this coming? Certainly not me.

So was Lambert making an educated guess or just taking a total gamble? Well, Lambert had looked at the data — and Newman was the best car on long runs throughout the race. That gave him faith the tires would hold up enough to give Newman a shot.

“I figured our best opportunity to win the race was to put the car out front and see if Ryan could make it wide enough,” Lambert said. “I can’t say I felt confident we would win the race, but I felt confident we’d at least have a shot. And I felt we wouldn’t be able to do anything else to give ourselves that opportunity.”

Inside the car, Newman recalled the sketchy restart last fall here — and realized there was a chance he could get taken out if he wasn’t careful. So his first priority was to just get a good enough start to have some clearance going into Turn 1 — and deal with whoever was behind him after that.

But with Kyle Larson in his mirror on fresh tires, Newman thought he might be toast. The No. 31 car, though, was stronger than expected (after all, it had been running top 10 prior to the strategy call).

“We had a good car, and it was the first time all day we put some clean air on it,” Newman said. “It was just a matter of putting those things together and showing y’all what we had.”

Larson the amazing

Kyle Larson is the latest example of the 2.5-year rule for new Cup drivers. Basically, young drivers either figure out how to find speed within the first 2.5 years of their career — or perhaps never get any better.

Everything seemed to click for Larson midway through last year, and he’s been a much more reliable contender ever since. These days, he’s one of the best drivers in the series — and the points leader!

Larson has now finished second in four straight non-plate races. That’s Homestead, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

And despite getting close to wins, Larson said the runner-up results aren’t getting tiresome — yet.

“I’m sure if I ran second for the next eight weeks, yeah, it’s probably going to grow old,” Larson said. “But it’s so cool to be one of the fastest cars every week. … I just hope we can continue to work hard, be consistent, be mistake‑free on pit road and on the racetrack. If we can just keep doing that, the wins are going to come.”

Everything isn’t great

When Kyle Busch’s team informed him Joey Logano’s tire had blown with five laps to go, Busch said, “Trust me — I know.”

Afterward, Busch was asked by KickinTheTires.net why he said that.

“I knew there was a going to be a tire blown because we haven’t made it past 44 laps in any run today without one being blown, right?” Busch said, practically biting his lip to stop himself from saying more.

It had to be a bitter pill for Busch to swallow — his recent nemeses Joey Logano and Goodyear essentially combined to cost him a race (although it wasn’t either of their faults directly; Logano melted a bead with excessive brake heat).

But just when it looked like Busch would go from puncher to victor in a week, it was he who ended up getting socked in the gut once again.

That’s the brakes for Logano, Dale Jr.

Two of the recent Phoenix race winners — Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — were expected to be contenders on Sunday. But that never materialized.

Logano couldn’t recover from a speeding penalty after he developed brake problems, eventually blowing a tire that caused the final caution. And Earnhardt had similar issues with his brakes, meaning he had to tiptoe around the track.

“The car just got to where I couldn’t get into the corner the way I needed it to,” Earnhardt said. “The last half of the race, the brake pedal was just almost to the floor. A couple of times it was on the floor going into the corner — pretty scary.

“The whole last 50 to 60 laps, I was pumping the brakes on all the straightaways to keep the pedal up so I would have some brakes for the corner and lifting really early. We just couldn’t run it hard enough to get up there and do anything with it.”

Toyota young guns shine

Despite seeing Busch’s win chances vanish, it wasn’t all bad for Toyota. The manufacturer’s two rookies — Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones — both got their first career top-10 finishes after different strategy calls on the last pit stop.

Suarez finished seventh after taking two tires and Jones finished eighth after taking four. Regardless of how they got there,  the results were much-needed confidence for Suarez and validation for Jones’ consistently speed to start the year.

“We didn’t have the speed, and the communication wasn’t great,” Suarez said of the first couple weeks. “We’ve been working hard trying to build chemistry, communication, and we have for sure been getting better.”

That communication was key to improving the car while also gaining track position on Sunday.

And Jones had to power through feeling sick, as he received two bags of IV fluids Saturday night after the Xfinity race.

“We’re going to have ups and downs, good weeks and bad weeks from here on out, but this is definitely a good week and one we can soak up for a minute,” he said.

 

Brendan Gaughan recalls time with Allen Iverson

When Allen Iverson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last fall, he mentioned Brendan Gaughan along with a lengthy list of thank-yous.

Gaughan was teammates with Iverson for two years at Georgetown University, a reserve whose primary job was to make Iverson miserable in practice.

“It went bad for him and bad for me some days,” Gaughan recalled during Daytona 500 media day on Wednesday. “I was allowed to hold my own with him (in practice); we had certain rules that didn’t apply to games.”

Gaughan said one of Iverson’s crossovers literally broke his ankle at one point — at least in the form of a bone chip and torn ligaments.

“I made sure he paid for that, though,” Gaughan said with a smile.

Gaughan downplayed how much impact he had on Iverson’s Hall of Fame career, but is proud of the player who he still calls a friend.

“I like to say (the success) is all because of me, personally,” he said with a grin. “But I don’t think I can take much credit for that.”

Gaughan isn’t about to try and prove himself on the court today, though. A driver who talks trash and wants to take Gaughan on in a game of one-on-one is likely to be turned down.

“I got to guard one of the NBA’s greatest point guards of all time, so I’ve got nothing to prove against any NASCAR driver who thinks he can pick up the basketball,” he said.

Social Spotlight: Austin Dillon

This is the first edition of a new feature called the “Social Spotlight,” where I’ll spend some time asking people in the NASCAR industry about their social media usage.

First up: Austin Dillon. You can hear the full interview in the podcast at the bottom of this page, but below is a transcript for those who would rather read it (the transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity).

JG: Do you have any private social media accounts?

AD: I’m all public on everything. No private stuff. I used to have a Facebook, but don’t have one anymore (except) for the one RCR runs and I do Facebook Live videos from. But as far as Instagram and Twitter, it’s all me.

JG: Are you on Snapchat?

AD: No. I deleted Snapchat when I got engaged — even before that, when I got a girlfriend. I just didn’t think Snapchat was really for me. Didn’t need it. (Chuckles)

JG: So you associate Snapchat with the old days when it wasn’t as corporate.

AD: Yeah, and it’s kind of repetitive because Instagram has all the same stuff with the stories now. I just like the format of Instagram better than Snapchat. I do think Snapchat is a little less business-ey.

JG: If you could only keep one (form of social media), which would you go with?

AD: Instagram. I think people can really take cool pictures and do cool videos and you’ll see a lot of that out of my Instagram this year. I’ve got a guy I’m working with where we’re pretty much just posting videos of different things we do at the shop, away from the shop and kind of my personal life.

I’m into the video stuff a lot. We posted a pretty cool one the other day with Slugger (Labbe) and the guys coming out and drinking some Coca-Cola by a Grizzly cooler. So the partners we have…they like those videos and it gives them something they can put on their Instagrams.

JG: How much of the posts we see are from you and how many are PR-type posts?

AD: On Instagram and Twitter, they’re pretty much all me. Jackie (Franzil, his PR rep) does a really good job updating people on what’s going on with our Facebook. … I would say 75 percent of my social media is me.

I think the worst part of my Instagram and Twitter is my grammar errors, so I definitely check with my fiancee (Whitney Ward) and Jackie. I think the biggest thing for me is punctuation. I struggle with that.

JG: Do you show them before you tweet? Like, “Hey, honey…”

AD: It’s right on my phone. I just hand it over to (Whitney) and she’ll go over everything. Sometimes I’ll copy and paste and send it to Jackie (and say), “How’s this look?” Now my brother (Ty), he doesn’t spell check anything. So it’s pretty funny to watch him sometimes.

JG: Do you ever say, “Should I tweet this?” if something could be controversial?

AD: I have in the past. I haven’t had to do that much lately, because I pretty much know where I’m at and what I can say. I’m pretty honest if you ask me a question if I want to say something.

If you say something on TV, I think it hurts more than if you do it through your social media account. I’m not gonna say the word I want to say, but it’s a cop-out to do it on social media.

JG: So it’s more brave if you’re not hiding behind the keyboard, so to speak.

AD: Exactly. If you’re going to say something about somebody or to them, you go say it to them or do it (in an) interview. At least they know it a little differently than through a keyboard.

JG: How many times a day are you looking through Instagram?

AD: Quite a bit. I’m on Instagram a lot. I like looking through people’s stories. I’ve got some good buddies who are always doing stuff that I follow. And then Twitter, I like following Trump. He’s pretty entertaining. And (Conor) McGregor on Instagram, he’s not afraid to show the lavish (lifestyle) and I’m sure people think he’s cocky and out there, but I think he’s done a good job with his marketing stuff.

JG: Do you think the Trump Twitter style will make people less afraid to be…

AD: Honest? Yeah, I think so. I like his honesty. There’s human error in everything. What he’s trying to show everybody is you can be yourself and it’s OK. I think that’s why a lot of the people voted for him — they can kind of relate to him a little bit — the screw-ups he has and then the stuff he does right. He’s really morally a good person, I think. But it’s funny to see all the different tweets he lets go. Sometimes they’re not needed, but it’s a different way of doing politics.

JG: Everybody has haters on Twitter. How do you deal with that? I assume you see them, so you do you ignore them? Do you block them?

AD: I personally just block ‘em. If they say something I don’t like, I just block ‘em. I don’t give them a second chance, usually.

I did respond to one kid. He was going off, and I had a lot of people go off on him underneath (the tweet), so I saw the guys who were just roasting this guy. I actually commented back to him and said, “You don’t even know me. Why don’t you come to the (RCR) Museum and I’ll take you around the museum?”

That kind of turned the whole situation around, but I’ve learned if you try to do that with every one of them, it’s too much time. Some people want to take the time to get to know you, but some people just want to screw with you. They might not hate you, but they just want something to do and make fun of. So I kind of laugh at it or just block it, because I don’t want to see it.

I like the new Instagram, too, because you can actually put words that key off that don’t let it come up in your comments.

JG: Oh, I didn’t even know that.

AD: Yeah, it’s a little edit list. My fiancee showed me that. It’s pretty cool. So like if somebody calls me a “short midget rich kid,” I can type “short midget rich kid” in there and it won’t pop up.

JG: No kidding? So I can type, “Jeff Gluck is a loser” and no more comments like that will come up?

AD: No more comments of “Jeff Gluck is a loser.”

JG: That’s awesome! I learned something here.

AD: It’s under Edit somewhere. (Note: To find this feature, go to Settings on Instagram, then look for Comments and type in the keywords you don’t want under “Custom keywords.”)

JG: Do you think your skin has been getting thicker over the years, the more you do this?

AD: It’s been pretty good lately. If they’ve said something bad once, I’ve already (blocked them), so I don’t even know who the haters are anymore. I have people who are close friends of mine and they’re like, “Man, this guy is hating on you!” I’m like, “I don’t even know who you’re talking about.” So it doesn’t bother me at all and I haven’t seen a hate message in a long time. I think I kind of got the group who were after it.

And if a new one comes up, I delete it so quickly that I don’t even look at their name. I just block ‘em. I have Hater Vision on at all times.

JG: What do you think the future is in the garage for social media? I hear a lot of younger people are going away from Twitter. Do you get that sense at all?

AD: I do, but I feel like I get more news off Twitter than anything. I get updated on things quickly, especially with sports and politics. I can be updated really quick. Instagram is more of a personal thing. … I think Instagram is the future for your personal use, but for news, I think Twitter is going to kill it. You just can’t get anything faster than Twitter on news.

JG: Twitter has a mute function. I’ve muted people I follow in the past, because I don’t want to unfollow them and be a jerk, but I also don’t want to see their updates all the time. Have you ever muted anybody you follow?

AD: I just unfollow them. If you’re saying stuff I don’t really agree with, I just unfollow them. I’ve done it multiple times. Even my friends, if it’s someone I know but they’re talking about something I don’t agree with, I’ll just unfollow them.

JG: Have you ever had anyone say, “Hey dude! You unfollowed me?” after you did that?

AD: I might have had like one or two who said that, but I’m just like, “I don’t like what you’re saying.” I’m pretty open and honest with them. It doesn’t bother me, really. If they come back around and they really ask me, “Hey, will you follow me again?” I’d follow them back, probably.

JG: Sometimes drivers tend to get into social media feuds. Is it hard after a race to not vent your anger that way?

AD: (After) probably four or five races last year, I’d get out and want to tweet something or say something — and then type it out and not say it. Maybe I should be more open about it on those things, but I try and keep it to myself.

JG: How quickly after a race is your phone in your hand?

AD: Really quickly. And then mostly I’m checking fantasy football. If I had a bad day on the track and my fantasy football team lost, it’s usually a long ride home.

JG: Anything else you want fans to know about your social media use or your accounts?

AD: If you want to see real, personal stuff, Instagram will tie you closest to me right now at this time in my life. So follow me on Instagram if you want to see stuff behind the scenes at my house, hanging with my friends and that kind of personal stuff.

Dillon’s social accounts can be found at @AustinDillon3 for both Twitter and Instagram.