When asked if winning the Daytona 500 is a career-changing experience, Ryan Newman answers without hesitation.
"Obviously it's a big career builder and resume builder," said Newman, winner of the 50th anniversary Daytona 500 in 2008. "It changed my life because I have the trophy, the check and the notoriety to go along with it. But I think it's the impression that people have of you as a Daytona 500 champion that changes your life more so."
Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet, would like nothing better than to enhance his resume on Sunday with another victory in the Great Amer
"I want to drive the Soldiers' car to victory lane," stated Newman. "That's our goal and what better way to salute our Army Strong Soldiers than with the Daytona 500 trophy."
Newman and the No. 39 team, led by crew chief and Daytona Beach native Tony Gibson, have gotten off to a strong start in the early portion of Daytona 500 Speedweeks with an impressive third-place finish in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout and posting the seventh-fastest speed in Sunday's Pole Day qualifying.
"I feel we have a car and a team that can improve upon what we've already accomplished at Daytona," noted the 33-year-old Newman. "We have the Duel race (on Thursday) and three days of practices to get our Chevrolet ready for the 500. There's plenty of speculation about the two-car draft and the recent rule change by NASCAR, but we just have to wait and see how it all shakes out and make whatever adjustments that will be needed. It appears we have an interesting week ahead of us."
There's another reason that Newman is feeling upbeat and that's how the U.S. Army/Stewart-Haas Racing team finished the 2010 Sprint Cup season.
“Well for the first time in a couple of years we had a good ending to the season," explained Newman, a 14-time Cup winner. "Our last ten races (in 2010) were strong. They weren't perfect but they were strong. That was the highlight of our season last year so coming off that and having some momentum mentally and physically are big for our team. I look forward to starting the season a little more than I did this time last year which is based off that performance.”
The last two races of 2010 saw Newman finish runner-up in Phoenix and seventh at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Also, eight of his 14 top 10s in 2010 came in the final 13 races.
"The last two years we didn't get off to a good start and we need to change that," said Newman, who had finishes of 36th and 34th in the past two Daytona 500s. "There's so many things you can't control at the superspeedways, but we know we can be good at what we can control."