Newman Battles Ill-Handling Race Car, Finishes 21st
HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Ryan Newman, in the No. 12 Penske Racing Alltel Dodge, finished a hard-fought 21st place in the 2008 NASCAR Cup Series finale, Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Newman finished the 2008 NASCAR Cup Series season 17th in the driver points standings in his final season with Penske Racing.
"The way that we ran tonight, I guess I'm glad that the season is over. We really struggled tonight, and that's not how I wanted this last race to go," Newman said after the 400-mile race. "Despite our run tonight, I'm very, very grateful for the opportunity that Roger (Penske) has given me over the last several years. The friendships and relationships that I've made over the last several years are priceless."
Newman continued his positive sentiments. "To win the Daytona 500 for Roger is something that I'll never forget," he said. "Our year ended in a struggle, but my entire Alltel Dodge team fought every race to get the best finish that we could. I want to wish Kurt (Busch) and Sam (Hornish Jr.) and all the guys the best as I transition into a new race team."
Newman finished the year with one pole, one win, two top-five and eight top-10 finishes.
On Friday, Newman qualified in 29th place at the 1.5 mile Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season-ending 267-lap event.
Just a handful of laps into the race on Sunday, Newman radioed crew chief Roy McCauley that the Alltel Dodge was "too tight." The tight-handling condition caused Newman to fall back into 36th place by lap five. As the race wore on, Newman was able to gain back a few of those spots, but he continued to battle an ill-handling race car.
At lap 40, McCauley told Newman to do the best that he could on the track and that the team was ready to make "sizable adjustments" at their first opportunity to pit.
Newman pitted under the green flag at lap 51. The team made substantial track bar and wedge adjustments, hoping to improve the car's handling. The pit crew also changed four tires and added fuel. Newman returned to the track in 34th place.
Shortly following the green flag stop, Newman fell one lap down to the leaders while still running in 34th place.
Newman told his crew that the Alltel Dodge wasn't as tight as it had been during the first long run of the day, but the car had now gotten too loose on exit. Newman said the car was so 'free" getting in to the corner that he couldn't drive it in the way that he wanted to. He was also fighting a tight-handling issue in the center of the turns.
A caution flag at lap 69 gave the Alltel pit crew the opportunity to continue to work on the Alltel Dodge's handling problems. The crew made an air pressure adjustment to the left side tires in addition to another track bar and wedge adjustment. They also changed four tires and added fuel. Newman returned to the track in 35th place, still one lap down to the leaders.
With the race leaders setting a blistering pace on the field, Newman's goal was to be awarded the "Lucky Dog" free pass to get back on the lead lap should the opportunity present itself.
Newman continued to battle the ill-handling race car and was pestered with grip issues throughout the course of the race. However, with each opportunity, the Alltel crew made adjustments to the car on pit lane in hopes of assisting Newman's handling problems.
The team's hard work and perseverance paid off following a caution period that began at lap 198. Newman told the crew that his car was "plowing tight." Under the caution flag, Newman's crew changed four tires, added fuel and made a track bar adjustment. Newman restarted in 26th place, the second car one lap down to the leaders.
A daring three-wide move on the restart put Newman in the position to be awarded the "Lucky Dog" free pass, which would put him back on the lead lap with just over 50 laps remaining in the race. A quick caution flag at lap 207 proved to be the break that Newman needed to get back on the lead lap.
Under the caution flag, Newman made his final pit stop of the night for four tires and fuel. The No. 12 machine returned to the track in 25th place. McCauley instructed Newman to conserve his fuel because he was about five laps shy because the team did not plan on pitting again.
As the laps wound down, Newman continued to fight with a race car that wouldn't turn in the center of the corner and was loose on exit. Newman told his crew that he was doing everything he could with the Alltel Dodge, but with just 11 laps remaining, Newman once again went one lap down to the leaders. But over the final laps of the race, Newman was able to gain spots on the tracks as several teams opted to pit for fuel and others ran out of gas.
Newman crossed the finish line in 21st place. His Penske Racing teammate, Kurt Busch, finished 43rd.