Every time Ryan Newman drives through the infield tunnel at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, he can’t help but smile.
That’s when he takes a minute to let his mind wander and flash back to February 2008 and his personal triumph at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
The date was Feb. 17, and it was the day all the hard work and sacrifices Newman and his family had made through the years finally paid off. It was the day Newman’s dreams came true – the day he hoisted the Harley J. Earl Trophy in Daytona’s famed victory lane and became a Daytona 500 champion.
Newman, who had led only a handful of laps during the 200-lap event, took the lead on the backstretch of the 2.5-mile superspeedway on the final lap and was pushed to victory by then-teammate Kurt Busch, with Newman’s dad, Greg, spotting.
As his dad called him across the start-finish line, Newman said he could hear his father’s teardrops over the radio.
The memory makes Newman smile.
Unfortunately, in recent years, there haven’t been a lot of smiles for Newman & Company at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
In fact, it’s been a series of wrong-place, wrong-time incidents that have either put Newman out of the race for good or have caused so much damage to his racecar that he could do little more than limp to the checkered flag.
Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009 – the season after his Daytona 500 victory – Newman’s best finish at Daytona was 20th in the July 2009 Coke Zero 400, and he’s endured three finishes of 34th or worse.
Despite the trials and tribulations, Newman remains confident his No. 39 crew can get him back to victory lane at Daytona, where smiles are always aplenty.
And the Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday night would be the perfect time for the No. 39 Chevy to get back out front and back to Daytona’s victory lane to allow Newman and his team to show off their pearly whites. New sponsor Aspen Dental – a network of full-service dental practices providing quality, affordable care in 22 states – adorns the racecar’s hood for the first of two races this season.
For Newman & Company, a win at Daytona also would have added significance as the No. 39 team is in a heated battle for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
With nine races to go before the Chase gets underway, Newman is 15th in points. Earning a second victory to go with the team’s win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on April Fools’ Day would help the No. 39 Aspen Dental team in its goal of clinching one of the coveted top-10 positions in the points that clinches a Chase berth, or securing one of two wild-card berths into the Chase.
In addition to his Daytona 500 win, Newman has a 2000 ARCA Series victory and a 2004 International Race of Champions series win at the Florida superspeedway. So he knows that getting a win at Daytona takes the perfect combination of skill, preparation and luck, as well as a touch of magic. He’s done it before and, if those critical components fall perfectly into place under the lights Saturday night, Newman will be all smiles once again along with his Aspen Dental team.