KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – “Can you pick up and have the same success you enjoyed together in the past?”
That has been the most popular question asked of Quicken Loans driver Ryan Newman and crew chief Matt Borland since being reunited as a duo for the first time since the end of the 2006 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign.
In its five full seasons together in the Sprint Cup Series from 2002 to 2006, the Newman-Borland combination produced 12 victories, 37 poles, 52 top-five finishes and 83 top-10s. It also generated top-10 finishes in the season-ending points after each of its first four seasons of full-time competition.
While it’s still too early to know the answer to the question this time around, the duo’s first race together in six years this past weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway proved the heart and determination to be competitive and be in contention for a victory has not wavered.
It may not have been the win or even the top-10 finish they had hoped to secure in their first race together again, but Newman, Borland and the entire No. 39 Quicken Loans team staged an impressive comeback at the Virginia short track Sunday.
In the final 120 laps of the 500-lap event, Newman rallied from 28th place, two laps down, to finish 11th and on the lead lap. It was Newman’s 20th top-15 finish this season. All in all, it was a successful homecoming for Borland as he returned atop the pit box and called the shots for Newman.
With Quicken Loans, the nation’s largest online retail mortgage lender, adorning the No. 39 Chevy at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, the homecoming continues and the Newman-Borland duo hopes to improve upon the solid 11th-place finish at Martinsville.
Newman’s lone victory on the 1.5-mile Texas oval came in 2003 under Borland’s tutelage. In addition to that victory, Newman has two poles, three top-five finishes and three top-10s in 18 career starts at Texas.
Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, Newman has four top-15 finishes in seven starts at Texas, and he has finished in the top-20 all but once.
With Newman’s last top-10 finish at Texas coming in April 2008, when he finished fourth, the No. 39 team is hoping the newly reunited driver-crew chief tandem can get back on the right track and produce a solid performance at the Fort Worth racetrack.
There’s no doubt the unique pairing of the engineering majors – Newman a graduate of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and Borland a graduate of the General Motors Institute of Technology in Flint, Mich. – involved a technical understanding that sparked and sustained its past success.
The two speak a common language. When Newman explains what the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet is doing, Borland understands what he needs to do to the racecar to make it better for the driver.
That’s what makes this reunited pair feel so good about the future and this weekend, when Newman and Borland will be put to the test with the challenging and fast Texas racetrack. It’s certainly an ideal venue for the two to rise to the next level. And in the end, the goal for Newman and Borland is to get back to their winning ways of the past.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
So, can you and Matt Borland recapture the success you had in the past? “Obviously, that’s our goal. I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight, but I do think it’s something we can do. Matt and I understand each other and I think we speak a similar language. Although Matt hasn’t been a crew chief for a while now, he is still very in touch with every part and every aspect of the racecar. He understands a lot about the racecar. Obviously, he’s not been here each and every week to see the changes in the tracks. He’s missed some things, but he’s still very involved. I think we had a good first outing last weekend at Martinsville, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do this weekend in the Quicken Loans Chevy.”
Talk about racing at Texas. “I always look forward to racing at Texas. I love the speed at Texas. It’s a fast racetrack. Texas is actually one of the fastest tracks we go to all year, so you have to be on top of your game because things can happen pretty quickly. It’s a track I’ve always liked, although it doesn’t necessarily show in my finishes. It’s a smooth, fast racetrack and there are multiple grooves, so it’s fun to race there. The asphalt has aged the track to the point it has gotten better and better each time we come back. What I mean is, the track has basically gotten wider. It’s gotten a bit more character. A little more bumpy, which is fine. I like it. I think, in general, the track has gotten wider and racier each time we’ve come back. It’s got less grip, but that’s fine. I’d rather slide around a little bit and be in charge of my racecar than be stuck to the racetrack.”
Assess your first weekend with Borland back on the pit box. “I was really proud of Borland and the entire team. It was kind of a learning weekend for everyone. There was a new group of guys working on the cars in the race shop and at the racetrack, so we all had to get to know each other and understand each other and communicate. And to be honest, I was really happy with everyone’s effort. We got behind in first practice with our Quicken Loans Chevrolet because we made a change that didn’t work, and we kind of stayed behind through qualifying. We didn’t qualify as well as we wanted, but we felt like we had a good racecar for the race. During the race, we just couldn’t get our car right. We got two laps down, but we got those laps back and we were inches away from a top-10 finish. So for a new crew chief and a new crew, I think it was a great weekend. I was proud of everyone. I was proud of the rebound we had. I think we learned lot, and I’m really excited about Texas because this is a track that I really like.”
MATT BORLAND, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Can you and Ryan pick up where you left off and have the same kind of success you did in the past? “That’s our goal and I think we can get there. We’re going to do everything we can to get back to that but, for a lot of the teams, that’s what they’re after, so it’s a challenge. I think we’re realistic and know it’s going to take a little while. That’s why we’re running these last few races this season. He’s obviously been doing this every weekend for the last 10 years or so, and I’ve been not doing it for the last six or so. It’s getting me back on the same page but I think things went pretty well last weekend at Martinsville.”
What made that relationship between you and Ryan so successful? Why is having a relationship like you had so important? “I think just attitude, probably, and work ethic. Everything was about racing, everything was about winning and everything was about that particular moment in time and being the best you can be. For us, I think the biggest reason is, in the Cup Series, you have to have a strong relationship because you don’t have data acquisition on the car. You’ve got to be able to trust what that driver is saying. You’ve got to be able to know what that driver is saying is right. So you’ve got to spend a lot of time talking about what’s going on with the car, what he’s feeling. Sometimes, you might not get that answer in the first 30 seconds of a conversation. It might be four hours down the road and you’re talking and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, you just said something here. I remember you said something over here that matches that.’ If that relationship is not good, you don’t have those two-, three-, four-hour conversations, you end up with those 30-second conversations. So then, when you are making decisions, you don’t really have all the information you need.”
Assess your first weekend together with Ryan at Martinsville? “It was nice to be back. It was good to see everybody and be in a familiar job setting. Being back on the box felt good. The guys did a great job at the shop getting the cars ready. I don’t have a single complaint with anything other than dialing the car completely out in the middle of the race. But, luckily, we got it back. We figured some things out, I think, so that’s all good. I just can’t say enough about the guys getting the cars ready. All in all, it was a good day for our Quicken Loans team. We would’ve liked a top-10 finish, but we’ll take 11th and head to Texas.”