If there were a time to exemplify 'Army Strong' this would be it for Ryan Newman and the #39 Stewart-Haas Racing team as they prepare for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the perilous half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway.
The short track slugfest will mark the return of the US Army paint scheme on Newman's Chevrolet Impala SS, which last ran in full Army colours at February's season-opening Daytona 500.
Whatever the colours, however, 31-year old has hardly enjoyed the start of 2009, with finishes of 36th (Daytona), 28th (California), 25th (Las Vegas) and 22nd (Atlanta) in the four Cup races to date. However, Newman is not fazed by the fact that, if you're looking for a reversal of bad luck, there are probably better venues than the unpredictable 0.533-mile Bristol bullring.
''So far, it's been a challenging time,'' he said from 32nd in points after the first four races, ''To be honest, we've had fast cars - we know where we're at performance-wise and it's a lot better than what our finishing results show. We've just had too many hiccups and unforced problems that have stalled our momentum. However, I am looking forward to getting back in the Army Chevy - driving the soldiers' car is an added inspiration.''
It's been feast or famine for Newman in 14 career starts at Bristol, and he knows that it's not exactly the best place to visit if you're looking for a break-out result, having produced top ten results in half of his races, but also finished in the 30s six times. His best Bristol result was runner-up to Dale Earnhardt Jr in the 2004 summer race, and a reprise of that would not go amiss this time around.
''Though Bristol is not the same track since it was repaved a couple of years ago, it's still a place that can invite trouble,'' noted Newman, who finished sixth in his last race at the track in August 2008, ''But, to me, the racing is at an all-time high at Bristol compared to the way it used to be. It's no longer a one-lane racetrack.
''You kind of had to root somebody out the way before, and fans really liked that, but, from a driver's standpoint, that's not the best way to race. You don't want to be looking in your rear-view mirror and worrying about avoiding a crash.''
Newman's optimism about having a strong finish is also based on crew chief Tony Gibson's experience and record at Bristol. Last year, in the two races at the half-mile venue, Gibson - who then worked at Dale Earnhardt Inc - guided Aric Almirola to finishes of eighth and 13th.
''We'll have a strong Army Chevy for Bristol and we know we can be a contending team there,'' Gibson claimed, ''It's all about being error-free and trouble-free. That's always easier said than done but, in reality, that's what needs to happen week in and week out if you're going to have success.''