Heartened by a recent uptick in performance, Ryan Newman is optimistic that he can continue the trend this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. The Indiana native has had good luck in the Irish Hills with two Sprint Cup wins in his career and, more recently, three Top-10 efforts in his last four starts there.
He’s also buoyed by the overall strides that Stewart-Haas Racing has made lately, with Tony Stewart’s victory at Dover International Speedway and Top-5 runs last weekend from both himself and Stewart at Pocono.
“We have – aside from Dover, we have had some good runs in the last four races,” said Newman. “And you know, carrying some of that momentum, as well as – obviously Tony had a good weekend in Dover, but just keeping the ball rolling.
“I think that there’s some things that we learned at our Pocono test that we can absolutely carry over from the Pocono race into Indianapolis going back to Pocono, and as well, I think at places like Michigan that are smooth and have similar asphalt and are really fast, as well.”
Newman, like other drivers on the circuit, likes the high-banked, two-mile oval at MIS, which he called “not the most challenging racetrack we go to” but one that was also “open and forgiving.”
He’s hopeful for another strong result there, which would no doubt please one of his major sponsors, Quicken Loans – the company will also serve as the title sponsor for the 400-mile race on Sunday. But while one might see increased off-track pressure for Newman as a result, he insists that there’s none there.
“There’s no pressure from the outside,” he said. “I think people view it as pressure, but from my perspective, it’s an opportunity to do something even greater, to win your own race as a title sponsor and a car sponsor. I’ve had the opportunity to do it before and haven’t, so I look forward to another opportunity.”
Newman currently sits 18th in the championship and is one of many drivers in 11th through 20th place that is seeking a victory to boost their hopes of a wild-card berth in the Chase. The only driver in that bracket that has one? His teammate and boss, Stewart.
Davison, Daly, Kaiser, highlight underdogs of Indy 500 qualifying
James Davison and Kyle Kaiser had uphill battles ahead of qualifying for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.
Davison, in a one-off joint effort involving A.J. Foyt Racing, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, and Belardi Auto Racing, appeared to have enough speed to make the “500” field, but a crash on “Fast Friday” put all those hopes in big jeopardy as the team needed to scramble to repair the No. 33 Jonathan Byrd’s Chevrolet in time for qualifying.
However, thanks to a herculean effort that saw the team stay at the track until the early hours of Saturday morning, the car was repaired in time for qualifying, and the team survived a chaotic final hour that saw Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe, and Pippa Mann all vying alongside them for the final two spots in the field.
In the end, Davison survived the bumping to make the 33-car field, taking the 33rd and final spot in Saturday, and saw a dramatic increase in speed on Sunday to average 226.255 mph, putting him a very solid 19th on the grid.
“It’s been an incredible weekend for the team after our mishap on Friday,” Davison revealed after Sunday’s qualifying.
He continued, “We had to endure a very long night, obviously it’s always depressing when you have a crashed car around here. We punched above our weight on bump day, and got ourselves in, but didn’t show our hand. We really laid it down on pole day to move from 33rd to 19th. It’s basically two days in a row the team has been rewarded for their hard work, making the show and moving up 14 positions on the grid. Unexpected results are always really nice in motorsports and we got that today with our improvement, substantially. Just very proud of the entire team and want to keep the momentum going next week.”
Conor Daly, too, had a stressful Saturday, as his No. 17 United States Air Force Honda – a joint effort with Dale Coyne Racing and Thom Burns Racing – lacked speed most of the week.
“Fast Friday” yielded some promise, as his quickest no-tow speed was 226.752 mph, good enough for 26th on the no-tow chart that day.
Saturday, however, proved a struggle. Unable to find the speed on his first two runs – he was bumped out of the field after his second attempt – he needed a third and final effort to make the field.
A four-lap average of 224.874 mph didn’t leave him much wiggle room, but it was just enough to get Daly into the field, as he took 32nd on the board. He’ll start 33rd after averaging 224.429 mph on Sunday.
“No dramas (on Sunday), but we’re fighting for miles an hour. All I can do is put my foot down and do the best we can for our incredible partners at the U.S. Air Force. It’s incredible to be here with them and at this point, I’m just thankful to be in the field. I’d like to be a lot quicker, but we’ll see what we can do in practice tomorrow to improve our race car,” Daly detailed after Day 2 of qualifying.
Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing faced a similar uphill battle, but theirs was down to experience. Juncos was entering its second “500” after debuting last year, and their debut wasn’t exactly a smooth one.
Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra only qualified 29th and 31st respectively, though Saavedra was able to finish on the lead lap in 15th. Pigot, meanwhile, fought major handling issues all race long and languished six laps off the lead at race’s end, finishing in 18th.
The 2018 outing didn’t appear much easier, as the team tackled it with rookie driver Kyle Kaiser, with last year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champ trying to make the “500” in his first attempt.
“Fast Friday” looked to be a bad omen, as they were 33rd on the no-tow speed charts at the end of the day.
But, Saturday qualifying saw a drastic turn in fortunes, and to the positive side. Kaiser qualified with a four-lap average of 225.934 moh, good enough for 21st at the day’s end, and putting them well clear of any bumping drama.
His Sunday run of 226.398 mph exceeded expectations even further, and he will start Sunday’s race in 17th.
“What an amazing day. I am in shock right now that we are going to be starting 17th for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500,” an elated Kaiser exclaimed after Sunday. “It was a stellar performance by the team. They gave me a super quick car for qualifying. The conditions were very challenging as the wind picked up and it got really hot, but we made it through and put in the best lap in these conditions. I am so proud of the entire Juncos Racing crew and I am thrilled to represent NFP in the race next weekend.”