NEWMAN OVERCOMES CUT TIRE TO FINISH 15TH IN CALIFORINA Lack of Grip Plagues Newman in Fourth Chase Race Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), battled back from a ...
NEWMAN OVERCOMES CUT TIRE TO FINISH 15TH IN CALIFORINA
Lack of Grip Plagues Newman in Fourth Chase Race
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), battled back from a cut right-front tire early in the running of Sunday's Pepsi 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., to finish 15th. It was Newman's 18th top-15 effort of the 2009 season and his seventh top-15 result in 14 career Sprint Cup starts at the 2-mile oval.
Although Newman's Chevy started the race a bit on the loose side, it wasn't the car's balance that hampered his progress during the event. Newman, like many other drivers at Fontana, complained that his car was lacking overall grip.
Under caution at lap 59, crew chief Tony Gibson told Newman that his car was running fast enough lap times to run in the top-10, maybe even the top-five. But to do that, they needed to get him out of the hole they were in at the back of the pack, as they started a distant 36th. Since Newman had only 18 laps on his tires, the No. 39 team opted to pit for right-side tires only. The quick put work allowed Newman to restart the race in seventh.
Although Newman and Gibson knew their racecar would likely be a handful on just two fresh tires, the gamble was worth taking during the early stages of the 250-lap race. Once the race restarted, Newman expectedly lost a few spots to the cars that had four fresh tires, but he managed to stay within the top-15 as his car's handling stabilized.
But the track position the team worked so hard to gain vanished on lap 80 when Newman ran over debris laying on the frontstretch that cut his right-front tire. As the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army Chevrolet slowed, NASCAR waved the yellow caution flag. Newman was able to nurse his machine back to pit road without sustaining any damage.
"Right as I passed the start/finish line, the tire went down," Newman told his crew over the radio. "I don't know what we hit, but we had to have run over something."
As Newman pulled to a stop in his pit box, the right-front tire exploded. The pit crew managed to change all four tires, add fuel and make a track bar adjustment to aid with the loose-handling condition of the racecar. Following the stop, Newman came in a second time so the pit crew could further inspect the car for damage and to add tape to the grill openings beneath the front bumper.
"Great job taking care of that thing to get it in the pits without tearing anything on the car," Gibson radioed to Newman. "The tire stayed up until you got in the pit box, and that's when it just blew. So, the splitter, fender -- everything looks perfect."
Despite the tire issue and the multiple pit stops, Newman was able to restart in 27th and on the lead lap. He continued to tell his crew that the balance of the No. 39 Chevy was not an issue, but his struggles with lack of grip and lack of track position persisted throughout the race. With each pit stop, the crew worked to help Newman's problem with a variety of air pressure adjustments. The team also made track bar and wedge adjustments to assist with the slight handling issues Newman encountered as the race wore on.
Newman and the No. 39 team made their last pit stop of the day for four tires, fuel and wedge and air pressure adjustments under green flag conditions at lap 227. Newman was in 20th-place on the racetrack when the caution flag waved at lap 234, and because track position had been an issue all day, Newman opted to stay on the track, which moved him up to 10th. When the race restarted, Newman was able to gain five spots in one lap to crack the top-five. However, the caution flag waved once again to halt Newman's forward progress.
Another caution flag and a starting spot on the inside line proved to be too much for Newman to overcome, and he slid back to 15th by the time the checkered flag dropped.
"We got from 10th to fifth on that next to last restart there, and I think we showed how strong our Haas Automation Chevy was," Newman said. "We had the inside line on that last restart and that was kind of the doom of death for us."
Newman's SHR teammate and car owner, Tony Stewart, led twice for six laps before scoring his series-leading 15th top-five finish of the season and his fourth top-five in 17 career Sprint Cup starts at Fontana.
Both SHR drivers are represented in this year's Chase for the Championship. Stewart remained fourth in the standings, but is now 84 points behind new Chase leader Johnson. Newman dropped one spot to 10th, 223 markers out of first.