Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Stewart-Haas Racing's Ryan Newman, who is currently 13th in the Sprint Cup Series standings. Newman, who has consecutive top-12 finishes after opening the season with back-to-back 21st-place results, spoke with SB Nation at Las Vegas.
SBN: What percent of your career races can you remember?
RN: I'd say probably 95 percent of them. I can remember pretty much everything. There's times where I could only remember it if you told me, but then it flashes back to me.
SBN: What happened to the other five percent you can't remember?
RN: I was just giving you the 95 number since I couldn't remember all of them.
SBN: Oh, OK. What was the first-ever win you got in any form of racing?
RN: I've still got my very first trophy – it was a Quarter Midget trophy. I'm not sure I actually won anything, it was more the concept of wanting to win. But the guy who ran the track gave me the trophy – it was just a little wooden trophy with a little brass Quarter Midget on it – back in 1982 or 1983.
SBN: So you got a trophy, but you didn't win the race?
RN: I don't remember. Man, I was like five years old! You asked me how many I can remember and I told you 95 percent. Well, that's one of the five percent! (Laughs)
SBN: Who is a clean driver you enjoy racing around in NASCAR?
RN: Well, there's quite a few of them. (Martin) Truex and I are friends, so I think we probably race cleaner than most other people. But even a guy like (Matt) Kenseth, we race pretty hard and pretty clean.
SBN: On the other side of that, who is a driver who always seems to make it hard on you?
RN: Robby Gordon always races hard, but you expect that out of him because that's just the way he races. Then there's guys like Paul Menard, who I think is more recently learning the give-and-take thing, and Regan Smith, who is new somewhat and kind of still learning the give-and-take thing.
You get a guy like Ricky Stenhouse, when he jumps in the (Cup) car, he's going to be different and you'll have to anticipate what he's going to do. So it makes it difficult.
SBN: In the 12 Questions interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr., he said you used to race really hard but then changed your ways. Do you think that's accurate?
RN: Well, I used to have a fast enough car where I didn't have to get worried about getting hit from behind. Then there was a point where my cars weren't that fast and I raced really hard and guys turned me around. So that kind of taught me, and I learned from the school of hard knocks.
Tony Stewart had Mark Martin to help teach him, and I didn't really have so much of that. I always raced hard, just because that was what I knew; that was what I thought was right. But when you don't have a car that will legitimately stay in front of the car behind you and he feels like you're in his way, he'll just turn you around.
And it was obviously easier then (to spin someone) than it is now, but that was a learning time for me. And that's why I am the way I am today.
SBN: What's your personal code of conduct on the track?
RN: I usually race how I want to be raced, up until the point where they don't race me back the way I thought they would.
SBN: OK. I think I followed that...
RN: I mean, if we're 50 laps into the race and I'm loose, then I'll let you go. But if it's 50 laps to go and I'm loose and planning on it tightening up, I'm not going to let you go. Or if I'm at Martinsville and I'm going to get freight-trained with 50 laps to go if I don't fit into the hole, then I'm not going to give it up. So it's situational.
SBN: Do you have a mental list of people who have wronged you on the track?
RN: Absolutely. A good driver doesn't have to write it down.
SBN: How far are you down the list in getting your payback?
RN: There's only a couple. It's really not worth it, because even if you feel you need to get somebody back, they're just going to feel like they need to get you back afterward. So it's gotta be right.
SBN: Who is a driver from the past you would like to team up with?
RN: David Pearson. If you look at the win percentages, he's the best. Just strictly for seeing what he's doing and treating it like a two-car team, if that's what you're asking.
Plus, if I could have been the second car for the Wood Brothers, that would have been really cool. I mean, he wouldn't have had as many wins, but that's fine. (Laughs)
SBN: When is the last time you were nervous about anything?
RN: Last time I was really nervous was when my wife's blood pressure started dropping while she was birthing our first kid. That was 15 months ago.
SBN: Oh, yikes. Well, hopefully the moment passed fairly quickly?
SBN: OK! Moving on. As drivers, you guys do a ton of fan appearances – and sometimes they can get awkward. Can you recall an awkward fan moment?
RN: The typical one is when someone asks, "Who do you least like to race against?" or something like that. It's like, "If you're a fan and you can't figure that out, then you need to keep watching. Because you shouldn't have to ask."
SBN: So basically, that's the same question I just asked you a couple minutes ago!
RN: Kind of. (Chuckles) You're asking for a different reason. But it's like they don't know the sport well enough to know who races right and who races wrong and how it should be. That's one of the frustrating ones, because I never answer that question – I just tell them to watch and find out. That's the drama that should keep you going.
SBN: OK, well thanks for not answering my question that way. Anyway, if you had to pick one, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or high-level NASCAR official after you retire?
RN (grimaces): Those are my two options?
SBN: Sounds like those aren't great options for you.
RN: Yeahhhh. Can I do like "Option C: The flagman" or something?
SBN: Really? You'd rather be the flagman than a broadcaster?
RN: Well, you could actually watch the race, enjoy it, do a little work and get paid – and you don't have to worry about someone listening to you and critiquing that, or how many people in the garage don't like you. The flagman is pretty much the only unbiased person in the garage.
SBN: Yeah, but what if the flagman gives you the "move over" flag too often?
RN: Well, that doesn't matter.
SBN: People don't pay attention to that?
RN: Not really. (Laughs)
SBN: What's a question you get tired of answering? I guess you may have already answered this previously.
RN: Yeah. Just the question I get tired of answering is the stupid question. Like, "How do you feel?" after you've crashed.
SBN: This question comes from Marcos Ambrose. He wants to know, "What's your secret?"
RN: My secret? My secret is keeping secrets.
SBN: And now I'd like to get a question from you for the next guy. Anything you want to know?
RN: Not really. Just throw out, "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"
Next week: 12 Questions with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.