ESPN Radio: Fishing for first place

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Ryan Newman, like most Nextel Cup NASCAR drivers, lives life in the fast lane, driving at breakneck speeds around racetracks from coast to coast.

But while racing is in his blood, fishing is in his heart, particularly when the subject turns to his favorite piscatorial species.

"The largemouth bass, that's what I've done the most fishing for," Newman told ESPNOutdoors.com on Thursday as he prepared for this weekend's NASCAR circuit stop in Phoenix.

"Bass are the most challenging and the most fun for me and at the same time they are the most relaxing, too."

So much so that Newman — who will be interviewed by Tommy Sanders on this Saturday morning's coast-to-coast airing of "The Outdoors Show on ESPN Radio" — admits he often is thinking about bass fishing.

And, yes, that includes, on occasion, during the time he spends piloting the No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge — a race car owned by Roger Penske and maintained by crew chief Matt Borland — toward the checkered flag.

"Yeah, when you're having a bad day, you can let your mind wander," Newman said, laughing. "And when you're in the car before you start running, sometimes you'll talk about fishing."

Currently sitting in ninth place in the Nextel Cup series, some 269 points behind 2005 leader Jimmie Johnson, Newman hasn't seen too many bad days on the track this season.

With three pole positions to his credit but no trips to victory lane thus far, Newman is mixed about his performance this year.

While the ALLTEL Dodge team has obviously qualified well, Newman admits there is on-the-track work to be done if his team is to be in position to win the Nextel Cup championship during the final 10 races of the season.

"We've done OK so far this year," Newman said. "We're in the top-10 in points, but we can be and we will be better. We're working to be better."

Even so, as the grind to win a Nextel Cup championship continues, fishing is never far from the mind of the 27-year-old driver originally from South Bend, Ind.

Nor is a fishing rod-and-reel ever far away from the Purdue University graduate's hands, either, especially when he is at home in North Carolina.

"I've got fishing poles all over," Newman said. "We have some property north of Charlotte where we have a 7½-acre lake. There are about 40 rods and reels up there."

When Newman is on the road living out of his motor coach at the various NASCAR raceways, he indicates there are nine rods and reels ready to go, as well as an inflatable boat that can help the driver get on the water to wet a line.

And that's not the end of Newman's profuse collection of angling gear, either.

"I keep a travel rod in my vehicle so that if I see a good fishing spot on the side of the road, I can go get it if I need to."

Have those rod-and-reel combos seen much angling action so far this race season?

"I've done quite a bit of fishing this year," Newman said. "We fished at Martinsville and down in Texas last week. There were quite a few bass down there in Texas, but nothing big."

"We also went and did some fishing in Daytona, but I was sicker than a dog there," he said. "So I guess I've done more fishing than the average person, but never as much as I want."

While Newman has fished in exotic surroundings, from the saltwater brine to Rocky Mountain trout streams, his best fishing memory actually came not far from the start/finish line at Darlington Raceway.

That's where he hooked and landed the biggest bass of his angling career — a 6½-pound largemouth that fell to a Rat-L-Trap crankbait speeding through the water.

"I actually caught that in the 'Minnow Pond' at Darlington, right outside of Turn 4 of the racetrack," Newman laughed.

Another fond angling memory occurred last autumn, when Newman and his wife, Krissie, fished together during the ALLTEL Ranger Cup on Florida's Lake Okeechobee.

At that low-key fishing event, held following the final NASCAR race of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Newman and his wife did so well that they quit counting the number of bass they caught.

"We had a blast, pulled a lot of fish out, and it was relaxing at the same time," Newman said.

While Newman's success on the track — he was the 2002 NASCAR Rookie of the Year and won eight races in 2003 — will allow him to afford anything that a tackle company has to sell, his tastes in gear selection run simple and true.

"I'm a big (plastic) worm fisherman, although I also like crankbaiting," said Newman, who began fishing at age 4. "I'm a big Zebco man. I like to use the Zebco 33 used in the old style of fishing."

What's his favorite color of plastic worm?

"Purple, just like everybody else," he said.

In case you think that Newman's love of the outdoors is a rarity on the NASCAR circuit these days, think again.

He points to several other NASCAR drivers who enjoy the piscatorial pastime, including Greg Biffle (last week's winner at Texas Motor Speedway); Matt Kenseth (2003 NASCAR champion); and brothers Bobby Labonte (2000 NASCAR champion) and Terry Labonte (two-time NASCAR champion).

And keep in mind those are just a few of the drivers that enjoy the sport of fishing.

Add in such names as former series driver and Daytona 500 champ Ward Burton and rising star Elliott Sadler — two of the sport's drivers that enjoy hunting — and it's easy to see there is a lot of crossover between the love of stock car racing and the love of the great outdoors in the NASCAR nation.

Meanwhile, don't be surprised if Ryan Newman daydreams about fishing during his next trip down victory lane.

Click here to learn more about "The Outdoors Show on ESPN Radio." And to find the ESPN Radio affiliate in your area, click here.