Hanging with Mr. Newman: Our own Tom Jensen is shadowing the No. 31 at Kansas Speedway
Editor's note: This weekend, FOXSports.com Digital Content Manager Tom Jensen will be embedded with Ryan Newman and the Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Kwikset Chevrolet SS. Check back here for updates throughout the weekend.
FRIDAY, 6:44 p.m. - It was a long day for Ryan Newman, crew chief Luke Lambert and the rest of the Richard Childress Racing team, but it was a good one. Newman ran a best lap of 192.816 miles per hour in qualifying, which put the No. 31 Kwikset Chevrolet seventh on the grid for Saturday night's 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Afterwards, Newman said he would relax, watch the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the track and think about tomorrow's big race under the lights.
"A lot of us don't know what to expect with the first night race here, but we've got enough experience under our belts that we should know a good place to start. We need to make sure that we can tune on the race car and see how the Kwikset Chevrolet is in the race," said Newman. "The guys did a good job today. Seventh isn't what we wanted, but it's a lot better than 36 others did."
For Lambert, the work will continue well into the night and again early tomorrow morning.
"Where we're at right now, is we have to go back and look at our notes and see where we ended in race trim," said Lambert. "Our final run of race trim was the start of Happy Hour and we were a little tighter than we wanted to be. And then, on top of that, we need to anticipate what the track's going to do and build some adjustability into our package for tomorrow night. When the sun goes down, the track will change a little bit. Hopefully, we'll be able to get the balance right at the start and have adjustments available to us as the race goes on."
FRIDAY, 2:52 p.m. - Happy Hour was a good time indeed for Ryan Newman, as he wheeled the Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Kwikset Chevrolet to eighth fast in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session prior to Saturday night's 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway. While Newman was pleased with his run, he was curious about how the track would race on Saturday night, with pavement that's less than two years old.
Specifically, Newman is concerned that there aren't yet two full racing grooves at the 1.5-mile track. Tonight's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race should help put down rubber and create a second racing groove, but Newman wasn't sure by how much.
"The track has got to widen-out. And I don't necessarily see the trucks widening the track a whole lot, so I think it will be more a matter of how much rubber we get. I'm not exactly sure," Newman said. "With a 6:30 p.m. start time (Saturday night), the sun will still be out and there is a chance to put a little bit of rubber on the track and hopefully that will make a big difference. When we're out there, it's barely two grooves wide now. I'm saying two car widths, not two grooves."
FRIDAY, 12:37 p.m. – The first of two sessions of practice for the 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway was uneventful for Ryan Newman and the Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Kwikset Chevrolet team. And uneventful was fine with crew chief Luke Lambert, who is working well in his first season teamed with Newman.
“It went fairly smooth – no big surprises with the tires or anything,” said Lambert. “We pretty much just had to keep up with the track a little bit. Like it is and has been in recent history, the track’s picking up a lot of speed as the session starts and the cars put down a lot of rubber. So we just had to follow the track and see where we were at there. We had to adjust the balance from the start of practice, snug the car up a little bit. By the end, we had gotten the edginess out of our setup and the car was driving decent, but the track tightened itself up a little bit, so we had to react to that.”
Lambert has a plan the team follows to make sure they don’t veer too much from what they know works well in terms of handling and pure speed.
“We try to just keep it simple and repeat conditions that are going to line up with the way we’re going to race as far as how we use the tires,” said Lambert. “And then we just rely really heavily on Ryan’s feedback and his feel for the car. Ultimately, we want to make sure we’re where we want to be on the speed charts, relative to the cars that we know are on even cycles relative to the tires.”
Lambert said the entire 90-minute practice was run in race trim, as will take place in the first part of Happy Hour. Then, the team will switch to qualifying trim, which should take about half of the 50-minute session. “Being condensed like that, we don’t have a whole lot of time by the time we use 25 minutes to switch over,” said Lambert. “We’ll have to be kind of quick on our race trim stuff.”
FRIDAY, 10:15 a.m - With the first of two practice rounds for the 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway just 45 minutes away, Ryan Newman is getting prepared to head out onto the track in the No. 31 Kwikset Chevrolet for the first time this weekend.
Today is a busy day, with the first round of NASCAR Sprint Cup practice from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CST, followed by Happy Hour from 1:30 - 2:20 p.m. and qualifying at 5:30 p.m. It's a compressed schedule because this weekend's event takes place in two days, rather than the normal three days at past Kansas races. And for Newman, there are a couple of new wrinkles, given that this is the first night race at the 1.5-mile track.
"The schedule here is different from what we're typically used to, but we've got experience this year at Richmond and Darlington with this schedule," said Newman, who comes into Saturday night's race ninth in points, best of the three RCR drivers. "And we've made a couple of mistakes in those practice sessions that we will learn from and adjust for today."
Still, there is a specific agenda in place.
"Overall, it's just getting a good feel for the car, and answering a lot of questions about the tire," said Newman. "Speed, obviously, is very important, but comfort at that speed is probably equally as important. You've got to make it so the car drives good, but it races good around other cars. There will be some times today where we'll work on clean air stuff, but we'll try to work in some dirty air stuff, too, just so we have an understanding of every aspect of what we will be dealing with tomorrow night."'
Newman's big concern this weekend is tires, specifically the fact there is a new combination of left- and right-side Goodyear Eagle racing tires this weekend.
"We're anticipating that tires here are going to get better as they're cycled through, versus so many other race tracks where they get worse," said Newman. "Because this tire is entirely untested and unproven, we won't know exactly how that's going to lay out until we go out there. For all we know, what we think the tire is going to do, could be exactly the opposite."
The plan for today is to focus on race trim in the opening practice and then spend some time working on qualifying setups during Happy Hour.
"If race trim goes well, hopefully the second practice will be in qualifying trim," said Newman. "Some of that will be in qualifying as a one-lap run, and some of that will be on re-fires, like we do our knockout qualifying procedures. It all depends on how good the race car is in these first few runs here in this first practice to know how we're going to approach the second practice. "