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.
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?