Every driver and crew chief will tell you they want to win every race. But this week there’s a little added incentive for Tony Gibson, crew chief for Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
Gibson has enjoyed tremendous success at the 0.533-mile Tennessee oval, but Bristol also provides poignant memories: It was near here were then reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Alan Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash on April 1, 1993.
“Every time I walk into the track at Bristol, I think of Alan,” said Gibson, who was car chief for Kulwicki’s title run in his famous No. 7 Ford, known as the Underbird. “We had so much success there. With him getting killed going to Bristol, it was pretty tough to take. We were supposed to have been on that plane. Our luggage was on the plane. We were running late, and we ended up driving up and he went on to his appearance. Things just didn’t work out or we would have been on that plane, too.
“So, yes, every time I fly into Bristol and, every time I walk into the track, I think of Alan and I think about the times we had,” said Gibson. “We won the last race there when it was pavement (1992) – we won two in a row and I think the last one that we won was the last race with asphalt. There are a lot of memories there, a lot of good times and, of course, there’s the one bad time. Every time I walk into Bristol, I feel like Alan is on my side and he’s helping me make decisions and do some cool stuff, so it means a lot for me to go to Bristol.”
Last year, in the first season for SHR, Newman ran solidly at Bristol, finishing sixth and seventh in the two Cup races at the track. And with Newman a disappointing 29th in the Sprint Cup points standings after the first four races of the season, Gibson is hoping that this weekend is a big one for the U.S. Army-sponsored No. 39.
“Ryan loves the short tracks,” said Gibson. “He likes Bristol, Martinsville, Darlington, Richmond, Phoenix-type of racetracks, and those are tracks I like better. I don’t know why. I like racing everywhere but, for some reason for me, my setups seem to work better at those tracks. They fit Ryan, and they fit whoever I’ve been with. It just fits both our styles a little bit better than maybe the mile-and-a-half stuff. I know our mile-and-a-half program has been better this year. I know we don’t have the finishes to prove it, but they have been stronger and we feel a little more confident about it. If we can make gains on our short-track program, like we did on our mile-and-a-half program this year, we will be pretty stout.”
Given that Newman still chasing his first victory since joining the team at the start of 2009, Gibson reckons this would be the perfect time to step up and win.
“It would mean a lot for me personally, but for the team, too,” said Gibson. “We felt like there were four times last year that we should have won the race and we didn’t. It’s a new year and we’ve got chances to do that. It’s exciting every time we roll into a short track.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEEDtv.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.