Penske Racing headliner Ryan Newman's Kentucky Speedway test took on a different flavor today when he received a special visit from Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Pence.

"I've been to the speedway several times, but it's neat to be in the garage here and see all that goes into the NASCAR races for each and every car. Ryan Newman is here today who is one of the top echelon drivers on the circuit. To have him and his crew here is very exciting. Seeing what goes into NASCAR with each and every race, it just makes the sport all that much more exciting for me."

Lt. Gov. Pence, an avid NASCAR fan, looked on while Newman turned laps in wintry temperatures to gather intermediate track knowledge that may pay dividends as early as this Sunday's race on the newly-configured 1.5-mile track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"We're working on our intermediate car, some specifically for Vegas and some specifically for the rest of the season," Newman said. "We're trying to map some things out. It's a cool day here so the track is pretty quick and everything's pretty good. We're trying to collect some data. It's tough anymore to get good testing in, especially at the NEXTEL Cup tracks, and this is the closest place we could come."

Newman ended a string of top-10 finishes in final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series points standings at four last season. After entering the year owning 12 wins, 50 top-five and 74 top-10 finishes through three full-time series seasons, he closed out the 2006 campaign with a career-low 18th-place showing in championship standings after picking up two top-five and a total of seven top-10 finishes.

He opened this season with a 38th-place finish in the Daytona 500 and followed with a 12th-place effort at California Speedway in the series last race Feb. 25. He plans to sustain his competitive momentum at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"We were happy to run 12th at California after struggling (there) last year and it was obviously a disappointment at Daytona. We had a car that was capable of winning and we were running up front 180 laps in, but we had duct work fail and that closed the radiator off. Therefore, it burnt the engine up. The bottom line is we've been competitive in both races this year. After last year, that's a great way to start."

Newman, who spent portions of last season lobbying NASCAR to change the Dodge Charger template, said he is relatively pleased with the current design of his No. 12 Alltel Dodge.

"The Dodge Charger's been pretty good. We have a new nose and a new hood. The downforce is different and balance seems to be pretty good. It's a matter of being more competitive and I think we are," he said.

He added he's eager to team with new crew chief Mike Nelson to take on the challenges presented by the Car of Tomorrow design that makes its debut at Bristol Motor Speedway March 25.

"We were middle of the road last week at Bristol speed wise in the Car of Tomorrow test. We've got some work to do to make the car ride a little better on a really bumpy racetrack. We're working with the lack of suspension travel to make the car ride good.

"It's definitely different, but it's not a huge difference. It's just a matter of getting it balanced and getting it trimmed out aero wise. Even at a place like Bristol, the aerodynamics are very important. We're just looking forward to getting back on the track and racing there," he said.

During his visit with Ky. Lt. Gov. Pence, Newman discussed the potential for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule changes and the addition of new tracks to the circuit.

"I think there are a few racetracks that we go to that we don't need to go to twice. They don't pack the place full so there's no point in going back. Obviously, we don't want to take away from the people that enjoy having it twice, but there are other places we can go to serve the entire United States a little bit better. Some tracks are nice to go twice and some tracks we only need to go to once, that's the bottom line," he said.

Pence asserted that a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event at Kentucky Speedway would create a success story for both the Commonwealth and the series.

"First, I think it'd be great for NASCAR because there are so many race fans in this area and this (television) viewing area in driving distance (of this facility). There's no question that what (Kentucky Speedway Chairman and Co-Owner) Jerry Carroll has built here is a great thing and they (the fans) would fill this up. It would be a huge impact economically for the state.

"A NEXTEL Cup race is just not a one-day event. It is a week event or more. That would have the same impact as a Kentucky Derby or greater. There are that many people that come to the track, it's a televised event and it's an opportunity to market Kentucky and the great job we've done in starting to do that.

"So, I think it would be something all of the people of Kentucky would benefit from. It is a wholesome sport and it's the type of thing we want people to know Kentucky for. I hope, and I believe it will happen, that a NEXTEL Cup race will come here eventually. The sooner the better," Pence said.

He recommended the state and its race fans openly demonstrate their passion for the sport to make his belief become reality.

"Let NASCAR know that the state cares about this. That's one of the reasons I'm here today, to let the people on Ryan Newman's team know that the state does care about this and they want to see a NEXTEL Cup race here. I like to hear and talk to guys like Ryan Newman because they believe a NEXTEL Cup race would work here.

"All the drivers who test here now say it's a great track. So, if the state gets behind it with all its effort, the fans get behind it, and we have a few drivers who say it's a great place to race, it will happen eventually. You know, there's always some resistance. If we do what Jerry Carroll is doing, and that's to keep plugging along day-by-day, eventually, there will be a (NEXTEL) Cup race here."

Newman closed out the NEXTEL Cup test docket for the week at Kentucky Speedway. A scheduled session for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., driver Martin Truex, Jr., was canceled earlier in the day.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~ Kentucky Speedway ~