Newman wins Michigan with fuel strategy

Ryan Newman conserved fuel and played the right pit strategy to achieve his series high fifth win, and sixth of his career. Newman led three times for 32 laps, taking the lead for the final time at lap 198. "It's usually a fuel mileage race here...

Ryan Newman conserved fuel and played the right pit strategy to achieve his series high fifth win, and sixth of his career. Newman led three times for 32 laps, taking the lead for the final time at lap 198.

"It's usually a fuel mileage race here of some sorts at Michigan just based on the number of laps and what the fuel mileage usually is for these cars," said Newman. "On one hand we considered yes, but you never know what you're going to get dealt. You never know what lap the yellows are going to be and if you're going to be part of it or where your track position is going to end up. I will say that Matt (Borland, crew chief) and everybody at Penske Racing and the ALLTEL team did an excellent job to give me the car first of all, but then the strategy and track position to finish off the deal."

As the race's tour came to a close, the No. 12 team believed they were four laps shy of fuel. But they ran the last 52 laps unfettered of worry; rolled the dice, gambled - and attained their third victory in the last six races. For Newman, with the win in his pocket, fuel mileage was the last thing on his mind.

"It don't matter," said Newman. "We can talk about it all day, but it don't matter. We made it to the end. Obviously we were close to running out, but I can't tell you if it was half a lap or four laps."

It was a sweet victory for Newman, whose last Michigan race ended at the infield care center. At the June event, Newman's Dodge burst into flames after a blown motor ruptured the No. 12's oil line, inflicting minor "sunburn" like burns to the side of Newman's face.

Kevin Harvick, who won the Busch series event under a red flag for rain Saturday, was second.

"Our car was probably the best car at the end," said Harvick. "Ryan (Newman) got away from us there at the beginning of the run, and actually passed us. So, he earned it. Just really proud of this GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, coming on strong in the points, running up front and leading laps, and that's what we have to do to stay in contention for these points."

This is the third straight top five for Harvick and the No. 29 RCR team. The strong outcome propels him forward two positions in championship status, into fourth, 479 points from the lead.

Reigning Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart was third; it is his sixth top- five of 2003.

"We changed everything but the driver and the steering wheel, and I'm not so sure that's not on the list of things to do here," said Tony Stewart. "We can't seem to get the thing right at the end of the race. We're good at the beginning, and luckily we did a good job with the fuel mileage today. The engine shop did a great job of helping us get the fuel mileage we needed. It didn't feel like I did a very good job today."

While Stewart had a stellar day for the No. 20 team, he voiced his exasperation about the entire fuel conservation-racing topic, that has mired the series over the summer, "I'm getting sick of all this fuel mileage racing. We've done it at Indy and we did it here. We have a good car to start the race and we just make it worse as the day goes on."

Raybestos rookie-of-the-year candidate Greg Biffle was fourth. It is Biffle's best outcome since winning the July race at Daytona, and only his third top five of the season.

"They said we were good to go (on fuel)," said Biffle. "So we must have been getting good mileage. I was trying to catch the 20. The 20 was a little better than me. I didn't want to wrestle with him long, I just let him go. I needed a good top five finish and we weren't gonna hold him off for eight to ten more laps."

Steve Park garnered his only top five finish this year, with a fifth place result.

"It was a great run for the America Online Chevrolet," commented Park. "Mike Beam (crew chief) and all the guys. We're brand-new and Mike and me are just gelling together. It was a great effort on their part; we got good gas mileage and Mike made a good call in the pits. I was conserving there at the end and Robby [Gordon] was catching me, so we had to get to racing there when I didn't know if we had enough fuel to go the last lap.

"It was great. That's what having great teammates like Robby and Kevin Harvick are all about. I'm just happy to be here with a good top-five finish for a team that's new, it's been struggling. It's not only good for myself; it's good for Richard Childress Racing, which had all three of its cars in the top six. I'm glad it's over with, man. A top five, that's pretty cool."

Fuel mileage captured the headline again, as miscalculations and wagers left some of the top runners bust at the end. Two laps of 200 remained, when Kurt Busch ran out of gas while in second position, virtually in synch with the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson running dry as he sat fourth. Busch finished 18th, Johnson 27th.

Johnson slips two rungs in series standings, to sixth, 524 short of leader Matt Kenseth.

It was a taxing day for several of the front-runners in the chase for the championship. Jeff Gordon experienced kill switch problems early in the event, and things continued to worsen for Gordon throughout the afternoon. At lap 50, he cut down a tire and had to pit; when the caution came out a few laps later it trapped the No. 24 Chevy down a lap. He lost another lap before the day was over and finished two laps down in 30th. Gordon remains third in standings, but slips 479 markers out of the lead.

Second place championship contender, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. became embroiled in an incident with Rusty Wallace after a lap-78 accident between Ricky Craven and Casey Mears brought out the fourth caution flag. As the field approached the entrance to pit road led by Ryan Newman, Newman suddenly darted back out into traffic. Teammate Rusty Wallace followed suit, and inadvertently rammed the No. 8 Chevy.

Earnhardt had to spend an extended period of time on pit lane to make repairs, he rejoined the field; but at lap 90 Earnhardt brought out the fifth yellow when debris showered off the DEI Monte Carlo. Earnhardt finished 32nd, losing significant ground to leader Matt Kenseth in the race for the last Winston Cup; he continues to sit second in the rankings, 329 points shy of the top spot.

"We just tried to salvage the most points as we could today," said Earnhardt. "I really wanted too park it, but you have to stay out there and try to get as many points as you can. It's not exactly how we wanted to end up today, but I had a great car so I can't complain. You don't want to run around all day in a torn up racecar, but it's going to happen. We've got a race next weekend, so we'll move on and get prepared for it."

Kenseth had another astonishingly consistent race, finishing ninth. He now has 18 top-ten finishes this year, and no finale worse than 22nd.

"Every week that gets by and you gain points, you feel better about it," said Kenseth. "I'm not pleased with the way we ran. Some other people had trouble, so we had a good day in the points, obviously, and I feel good about where we are. That's one more race down, but we have to get back to a winning level. We've slipped a little bit in the last couple of weeks and I'm not sure why. We need to get back on track and get that thing up front and winning some races."

There were an inordinate amount of cautions during the race, eight in all. The scariest incident involved the No. 23 of Kenny Wallace and the No. 54 of Todd Bodine. The cars made contact and erupted into flames on lap 64; neither driver was injured seriously in the accident. Another fire took out the No. 2 of Rusty Wallace at lap 106, when his engine exploded and set the read end of his Dodge Intrepid ablaze. He quickly exited the car and was unharmed.

This was the first event where NASCAR's new trunk mounted fire safety system was mandated. The new safety device uses automatic and manual triggering switches, which were designed to provide extra time for the drivers to exit their vehicles in the case of rear end impact and resulting fire. Apparently the kinks weren't quite worked out of the new system.

Wallace said he tried to unleash the extinguisher but was unable to, "The installation of the fire handle wasn't too good at all. It just bent over, and I couldn't get the thing out."

Wallace's fire wasn't the only inferno brewing in the garage. Apparently, Jimmy Spencer was not pleased with some of Kurt Busch's decisions on track. He let Busch know the measure of his displeasure post race, first hitting Busch's car upon entering the garage area, and then connecting his fist with Busch's nose, breaking it. Local authorities and NASCAR were in the process of investigating the skirmish at the time of this report.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Todd Bodine , Steve Park , Jimmy Spencer , Kevin Harvick , Kenny Wallace , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Richard Childress Racing