Phoenix: Ryan Newman race report

Radio Communication Issues Hinder Newman's Run at Phoenix; Haas Automation/U.S. Army Driver Finishes 16th in Subway Fresh Fit 500K Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army team battled their way to a 16th-place finish in Saturday ...

Radio Communication Issues Hinder Newman's Run at Phoenix; Haas Automation/U.S. Army Driver Finishes 16th in Subway Fresh Fit 500K

Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army team battled their way to a 16th-place finish in Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway despite being plagued with radio communication issues throughout the majority of the 312-lap race.

"We basically lost the ability to hear Ryan around lap 30," said crew chief Tony Gibson after the race. "Ryan tried to talk to us at different parts of the track throughout the race, but that didn't work. We tried hand signals -- things like if you're loose, touch the door and if you're tight, touch the roof -- and we tried to do a code using the touch to talk button. It was a struggle.

"It's a challenge to work on a racecar when the driver doesn't have the ability to key up his radio and tell you what you need to do to make it better. I know it was a frustrating night for everybody, but I'm proud of Ryan for not giving up on the track and I'm proud of the guys for doing all they could in the pits."

Newman, who had said he was pleased with his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) Chevrolet in race trim following Friday's two practice sessions, showed just how strong his car was early in the race. Thirty laps into the first run, he had moved up 10 spots to 20th-place. As Newman began to tell Gibson and his crew about the handling of his racecar, his radio became static-filled. Over the course of the next few laps, the crew was able to interpret what Newman was saying -- the car was tight in the center of the turns and loose on exit. However, the poor radio transmission was a sign of things to come for the team.

When the first caution flag waved at lap 54, Newman pitted for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure and track bar adjustment to help the car's handling. Newman was temporarily held up on pit road by the car in the pit stall in front of him, so he returned to the track in 23rd-place.

Again, Newman went to work picking off spots, and moved into the top-15 by lap 100. However, the team's radio transmissions continued to deteriorate. Newman tried to talk at different spots on the racetrack, but it was to no avail. He told the team through static that he was struggling hearing them, too. Finally, the team turned to using hand signals as their method of communication.

With spotter Greg Newman and Gibson questioning Newman throughout his run about the car's handling and asking him to use his hands to respond, the team was able to determine which adjustments needed to be made and what was not working on the racecar. When the caution flag waved at lap 137, Newman was able to signal to his team that he was still too loose off the track's corners. With that information, the crew changed four tires, added fuel and made a left rear air pressure adjustment to help give the car forward bite.

Despite the communication difficulties, Newman was able to run as high as 12th in the latter stages of the race.

However, the radio issues would come into play on the final caution of the night on lap 301. Newman and his Haas Automation/U.S. Army Chevrolet remained on the racetrack while the other lead lap cars pitted. Newman led through lap 306 when the race restarted, but without fresh tires, he was quickly passed by the leaders. The No. 39 team finished the race in 16th-place.

Tony Stewart, Newman's teammate at SHR and driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS, finished second. Stewart, who led once for a total 19 laps, recorded the best finish for SHR since the team's inception, and has notched three straight top-five finishes.

Stewart continues to lead the SHR driver lineup in the championship point race, as his second-place finish bumped him up one spot to fourth. Newman maintained his 17th-place position in the standings. Stewart lopped 87 points off the advantage held by series leader Jeff Gordon to close to within 104 points of the four-time Sprint Cup champion. Newman is 379 points out of first, but only 83 points out of 12th -- the cutoff position for the Chase for the Championship, with the 12-driver field being determined following the 26th race of the year at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.

Beating Stewart to the finish by .734 of a second to win the Subway Fresh Fit 500k was venerable Mark Martin. The 50-year-old driver scored his 36th career Sprint Cup victory and his second at Phoenix. Finishing third was Kurt Busch, while Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., David Reutimann, Sam Hornish Jr., and Carl Edwards comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were six caution periods for 29 laps, with four drivers failing to finish the 500-kilometer race.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the April 26 Aaron's 499 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway

-credit: shr

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , David Reutimann , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin , Mark Martin , Sam Hornis
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing