NEWMAN NOTCHES THIRD STRAIGHT TOP-FIVE FINISH AT PHOENIX
Tornados Driver Scores Fifth-Place Result, Moves to Seventh in Points
There's no doubt that Ryan Newman was hoping for a little magic as he returned to Phoenix International Raceway as the defending champion of the Subway Fresh Fit 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. After all, Newman started in the same spot, pitted in the same pit stall and drove the same No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet as he had last April when he got his first win with Stewart-Haas Racing.
And while the outcome wasn't the exact same, Newman and his No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet had another impressive run at the 1-mile oval, as they finished fifth. Newman led twice for seven laps during the 312-lap race, and he fought his way to his third consecutive top-five finish at Phoenix, and his first top-five of the season.
"It was a good run today for the Tornados Chevrolet, and a good day for Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole -- we had two cars in the top seven," Newman said following the race. "We didn't have the greatest stops today on pit road, but we fought back and we fought hard and in the end it paid off. We got better during the day, and I'm proud of everyone on this Tornados/U.S. Army crew.
"This is the best start to the season that we've had in a long time, and it was a good points day, and that's important. If we can keep running strong and getting consistent finishes, it's going to make a big difference in our season."
Newman started Sunday afternoon's race 14th in the 43-car field. He quickly reported to crew chief Tony Gibson that his car was a little loose getting into the turns, a little too sung in the center and a little too loose getting off the turns. Newman's first pit stop came under caution at lap 22 as he pitted for right side tires and a track bar adjustment. Newman restarted the race in 13th at lap 25.
Within five laps, Newman had moved into the top 10 for the first time of the afternoon. However, the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet was still too free for Newman's liking. When the caution waved at lap 33 for a spin, Newman and Gibson opted to come back down pit road for an air pressure adjustment, four fresh tires, a wedge adjustment and fuel. Unfortunately, a miscue in the pits cost Newman and his No. 39 team as they lost multiple spots and returned to the track in 24th place for the restart at lap 38.
Newman described the early stages of the Phoenix race as "intense" and "crazy" as there were several multi-car crashes in a quick series of events. Luckily for Newman and his team, the No. 39 narrowly escaped getting collected in either of the big wrecks despite being right in the middle of the pack.
During the course of the multiple yellow flags for the multi-car pileups, Newman stayed on the racetrack and was able to gain spots on the field. By lap 72, Newman was in second. Two laps later, he took the race lead for the first time. Newman stayed in the top two and held the lead on two different occasions, before giving up the lead for the final time at lap 92. Newman remained in the top four.
When the caution waved at lap 126, Newman told his crew that his car's biggest problem was a tight-handling condition in the center of turns one and two. He was also battling his car being loose coming off of turn four. Under the caution, Gibson brought Newman down pit road for four tires, fuel, an air pressure adjustment and a wedge adjustment. Newman returned to the track in sixth-place and remained in the top 10 for the rest of the day.
Newman continued to fight an ill-handling racecar throughout the course of the race. For the most part, the Tornados Chevrolet was a little too loose for Newman's liking. The crew made a series of pit stops throughout the afternoon to try and improve the handling of the car with a variety of wedge, track bar and air pressure adjustments, but never quite got the right balance.
Despite the handling woes, Newman had a super-quick No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet and clocked times as fast as the leaders as he ran in the top 10. At lap 284, Newman came down pit road for the final pit stop of the day, taking on four fresh tires, fuel and making one more track bar adjustment to help the car's loose-handling condition. Newman returned to the track in fifth place and remained there for the race's duration.
Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for SHR, led four times for 59 laps before finishing seventh.
Jeff Gordon won the Subway Fresh Fit 500k to score his 83rd career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his second at Phoenix. The victory ended a 66-race winless streak for the four-time Sprint Cup champion, as his last victory came on April 5, 2009 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Gordon is now tied with Cale Yarborough for fifth on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series all-time win list.
Kyle Busch finished 1.137 seconds behind Gordon in the runner-up spot, while Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Newman rounded out the top-five. Kasey Kahne, Stewart, Kurt Busch, A.J. Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt Jr., comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 43 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 312-lap race.
With round two of 36 complete, Stewart jumped from 12th in the Sprint Cup championship standings into a tie for third with Allmendinger. Stewart and Allmendinger each have 69 points and are 11 markers behind series leader Kyle Busch. Newman gained 12 spots to climb to seventh in the standings where he is tied with Bobby Labonte and Juan Pablo Montoya. Each has 64 points, 16 back of Kyle Busch.
Kyle Busch leads his older brother, Kurt, by three points, marking the first time since February 1988 that family members occupy the top two spots in the standings. Following the 1988 Daytona 500, Bobby Allison had the top spot while his son, the late Davey Allison, was second.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the March 6 Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m.