Ryan Newman and the Quicken Loans race team produced an impressive comeback in the TUMS Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
In the final 120 laps of the 500-lap event, Newman rallied from two laps down in 28th-place to finish 11th and on the lead lap. It was Newman’s 20th top-15 finish this season.
The effort was even more impressive because Martinsville marked the first race for Newman and new crew chief Matt Borland, who were reunited this weekend for the first time since 2006, in preparation for the 2013 season.
“It was a good rebound by our Quicken Loans team,” said Newman, who won the spring race at Martinsville. “Our car was entirely too tight, and it wasn’t working from about the second run of the race on.
We made wedge and track bar changes, and it didn’t help. We made air-pressure changes, and it didn’t change anything. Nothing was working, but we kept taking big swings at it, and we kept trying to fix it.
“We got two laps down, but we were able to use the wave-around to our advantage and get back on the lead lap and drive up to 11th there at the end.
It would have been nice to have gotten a top-10 in my first race back with Borland, but I’m proud of what we did as a team today. It’s a good start for us.”
Initially it didn’t look as if the reunion of Newman and Borland was going to bear immediate results.
Newman started 17th, but a tight-handling condition early in the race made it difficult for him to roll through the center and exit the very tight corners of the .526-mile, paperclip-shaped oval.
At the first pit stop at lap 44, the team made track bar and wedge adjustments to try and fix the car’s handling, and also changed four tires and added fuel.
Quick work in the pits by the Quicken Loans crew put Newman back on track in 12th-place for the lap 51 restart. By the next lap, he had broken into the top-10 for the first time.
But within a handful of laps, Newman reported that the changes hadn’t helped his tight-handling condition and that he still couldn’t get through the corners.
Newman was able to hold 12th-place until the team pitted again under caution on lap 99. The team made significant air-pressure and wedge adjustments in addition to changing four tires and adding fuel. Newman restarted the race in 10th-place at lap 103.
But the tight-handling condition persisted for Newman, and he dropped out of the top 10. By lap 250, Newman had dropped to 20th-place, and at lap 285, he had fallen to 26th and was one lap down to the leaders.
Realizing that their efforts at correcting the ill-handling racecar weren’t working, the team opted to make a major change under a green-flag pit stop at lap 375.
Newman pitted for four tires, fuel and a big wedge adjustment, and the crew also added a rubber to the right-rear spring. Newman returned to the track in 28th-place and two laps down.
Despite being two laps down to the leader, Newman and the Quicken Loans team continued to fight and devise strategy.
When the caution flag waved at lap 393, Newman took advantage of NASCAR’s wave-around rule to get one lap back and place him just one lap down to the leaders.
Newman took advantage of the wave-around again when the caution waved at lap 440, which put him back on the lead lap and in 20th-place with 55 laps remaining.
Another caution flag at lap 476 gave Newman the opportunity to pit for four fresh tires with higher air pressures – for more speed – and fuel. Newman restarted the race 18th at lap 481.
Newman gained seven spots in the final 19 laps to finish 11th.
“Today felt good,” Borland said after his first race back as Newman’s crew chief in six years. “The guys did a great job at the shop getting the cars ready.
I don’t have a single complaint with anything other than dialing the car completely out in the middle of the race, but luckily we got it back. We figured some things out, I think, so that’s all good.
I just can’t say enough about the guys getting the cars ready. All in all, it was a good day for our Quicken Loans team. We would’ve liked a top-10 finish, but we’ll take 11th and head to Texas next week.”
Newman’s SHR teammate, Tony Stewart, finished 27th in the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson won the TUMS Fast Relief 500 to score his 59th career Sprint Cup victory, his fourth of the season and his seventh at Martinsville.
It also allowed five-time Sprint Cup champion Johnson to take the point lead with only three races remaining. Johnson leads second-place Brad Keselowski by two points heading into next Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
With Johnson’s victory, Chevrolet clinched the manufacturer’s championship for the 10th consecutive season and 36th overall.
Kyle Busch finished .479 of a second behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five.
Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers, Bobby Labonte and Greg Biffle comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 64 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish.
Stewart is representing SHR in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and came into the seventh race of the 10-race Chase in seventh place among the 12 Chase drivers, 47 points behind former Chase leader Keselowski.
Stewart leaves Martinsville 10th in the standings, 71 points behind new Chase leader Johnson.
Newman maintained his 15th-place point standing. He has 936 points, 70 back of 13th-place Busch.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the eighth race of the 10-race Chase – is the AAA Texas 500 on Nov. 4 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.