Defending champ ready for 500

Published 8:56 am Friday, January 16, 2009

By By SCOTT NOVAK / Dowagiac Daily News
It may be hard to believe, but the Daytona 500 is less than a month away.
It seems like only yesterday NASCAR was crowning Jimmie Johnson as its champion for the third consecutive year.
And it was only 13 months ago that South Bend, Ind. native Ryan Newman crossed the finish line first to capture the 50th running of the "Great American Race."
Many of the drivers are in town this week as NASCAR's Fan Fest is set to begin on Friday.
While Newman will be with a new team, drive for a new sponsor and a new car make – Chevy – his desire remains the same.
He wants to win another Daytona 500 and he wants a chance to win a championship.
Newman met with the media on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming season and his plan to defend his Daytona 500 crown.
Newman left Penske Racing last season to join up with fellow Hoosier Tony Stewart in the newly formed Stewart Haas Racing team.
He will drive the No. 39 Army Chevrolet in 2009.
The first question out of the box on Tuesday was how it felt to be the defending champ.
"Well, I wish the year hadn't passed already almost because it was pretty cool," Newman responded. "I'm ready to defend it but I'm not sure I want to give up the title because I've got a 1 in 43 chance of doing that. It was a great win last year, for myself, for Penske Racing.
"All the things that happened to us that night, just a dream come true, and I really look forward to coming back and defending my title with a different team, with the Stewart Haas team and U.S. Army Chevrolet and Tony Stewart, just trying to put on another show for the fans."
Newman has spent part of this past off season vacationing, something he says he seldom does.
He and wife Krissie went snowmobiling in Idaho and he went on what he called a "man trip" to do some hunting in Illinois.
But even though he got to spend a little time away from racing, he knows his team has been working hard in preparation for the upcoming season.
"Tony Gibson, Tony Stewart, Darian Grubb, all those guys, Bobby Hutchins, are working on putting the family tree together," Newman said. "They've done a great job in my opinion so far. We're really looking forward to testing. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we're going down to test in New Smyrna, Fla. with the 39 and the 14. Just look forward to getting some of the first experiences underneath our belt."
In winning NASCAR's biggest race in 2008, Newman passed his new boss in the closing stages of the race to take the lead.
Newman was asked on Tuesday that if the same senario presents itself this year, would the outcome be any different.
"Well, if we had to do the same thing last year and replay it, I would anticipate Tony pulling up in front of my line and I would push Tony ahead, knowing that I would be his teammate," he answered. "Either way, Tony knows I'm a racer and I know he's a racer, and we'll race until the end, but we'll not sacrifice each other's performance to do that. That's the most important thing."
Newman will be trying to defend his title with a new car, new team and new crew. He was asked if that was going to be strange.
"I think the strange moment will be going to the Daytona 500 Experience and being part of that and pulling the old car out," he said. "That will be, I guess, the cutting of the umbilical cord of sorts. Again, I really look forward to competing next year this year with Stewart Haas Racing in the U.S. Army Chevrolet. I really look forward to creating our own successes."
So as the 2009 season rapidly approaches, teams are preparing to kick things off with the "Super Bowl of NASCAR" at Daytona International.
That's what they are doing at Stewart Haas Racing and that's what Ryan Newman is doing.
Only this time, he is preparing as the defending champion.