Late-Race Mishaps Cost Newman Solid Finish at TalladegaPair of Spins in Closing Laps Hamper Haas Automation Driver’s Run
A pair of late-race mishaps led to another frustrating ending for Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Haas Automation team at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Newman, who had one of the strongest racecars in the field, was spun twice in two laps – due to inopportune bump-drafts – with just a handful of laps remaining in the race. While he was able to save his racecar from sustaining any damage during both mishaps, the incidents put him too far back in the pack and without a strong drafting partner to help him get back through the field, resulting in a 25th-place finish.
“I am proud of the guys because it wasn’t the finish we wanted or deserved, but we survived it,” said Newman, who led three times for six laps in Sunday’s race. “It’s better than we were last year. I’m just happy with the speed of the car and the performance of the guys and everything else was just wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Wrong-place, wrong-time” has been a common occurrence for Newman and the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team at restrictor-plate racetracks – Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega – since joining forces in 2009. While Newman’s 25th-place finish isn’t indicative of the team’s strong run, the upside was that he once again had a car to beat while recording his third consecutive finish at a restrictor-plate track after a string of DNFs (did not finish) at the two tracks.
Much like the racing at Daytona earlier this year, the style of racing around the 2.66-mile oval had taken on a whole, new look. In past years, large groups of cars were bunched together inches apart. The new style of restrictor-plate racing, prompted by newly designed front ends on the racecars this season, features drivers pairing up with each other almost as if the rear of the lead car is connected to the front bumper of the car following.
Newman and Denny Hamlin, who had worked well together this past February at Daytona, opted to pair up again at Talladega. And once again, the pairing proved to be impressive. They worked together on several occasions during the course of the race, moving from the back of the field to the front with ease, and they turned some of the quickest laps on track on numerous occasions.
With Hamlin on the No. 39 Chevy’s bumper late in the race, the tandem stuck together and with their game plan. With 20 laps to go, they began to make their move toward the front.
However, their plan had its first hiccup on lap 171. Newman and Hamlin became disconnected, and when their bumpers reconnected in turn three, Newman’s No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet turned. Newman was nearly sideways in the middle of the turn and actually collected another car, but he was able to make an incredible save to right the racecar and keep going.
Newman and Hamlin were able to hook back up again but, unfortunately, Newman got sideways once again at lap 173. His Haas Automation Chevrolet looped around and came to rest on the apron of the racetrack. Newman was able to keep the racecar from hitting any walls, and the body of the racecar did not sustain any further damage. However, Newman could not quickly re-fire the racecar, which brought out the caution flag.
Newman, who sustained left-front fender damage during the first spin, brought the No. 39 Chevy to the attention of his pit crew for four fresh tires. Newman made a second stop so the crew could repair the left-front fender damage from the first spin and make sure he didn’t have a left-rear tire rub. Newman returned to the track for the lap-177 restart in 27th place, but he had little drafting help and couldn’t make up any ground on the field, leaving him with the 25th-place finish.
I am proud of the guys because it wasn’t the finish we wanted or deserved, but we survived it.
“If there was a category for ‘saves of the day,’ I think we’d be the only one that had two,” Newman said after the race. “But it’s just disappointing, obviously, because we had a good car. The No. 11 (Hamlin) and I were just biding our time and we decided to go and I got loose and it’s just the way it works. I just got loose underneath the No. 33 (Clint Bowyer), and whoever hit me (Juan Pablo Montoya) straightened me out. That helped, but it knocked the fender into the tire and that ended up shortening up our day. I’m proud of the guys to come back from the things we went through there, but I wish we could have been better.”
SHR teammate Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala, finished 17th.
There were 88 lead changes among 26 drivers during the race to tie the all-time Sprint Cup record for lead changes, first set at Talladega last April.
There were six caution periods for 24 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 188-lap race.
With round eight of 36 complete, Newman remained seventh in the Sprint Cup championship standings. He now has 253 points and is 42 markers behind series leader Edwards. Stewart dropped two positions to 12th in the standings. He has 240 points and is 55 points back of Edwards.
After a rare off weekend to celebrate the Easter holiday, the Sprint Cup Series returns to action April 30 with the Crown Royal 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.