POCONO’S TRIANGLE TRICKS NEWMAN
Haas Automation Driver Earns Ninth Top-15 Finish
Ryan Newman and his No. 39 Haas Automation team salvaged a 14th-place finish at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway despite his taking a wild slide through the grass and slamming into the turn three wall on the final lap of Sunday's Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Even while scoring their ninth top-15 finish this season, Pocono's "Tricky Triangle" proved to be a puzzle for Newman and his team on Sunday, as it tested their "never give up" attitude. But in the end, it was the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team who demonstrated their determination once again.
"We just didn't have the right setup today. We made a lot of changes to the car on pit road, but nothing seemed to work," Newman said. "It was disappointing for me because I really thought we had a good car. It's even more disappointing that I got torn up there on the last lap and we're bringing home a wrecked racecar."
Pocono earned its nickname as the "Tricky Triangle" because it has three independent corners, with each affecting a racecar's handling differently. The key is to find a common setup that gives the driver the best racecar in those different corners where he can gain the most time on the field.
While Newman qualified in the top-10 on Friday, his racecar didn't quite handle the way he had hoped come Sunday. Under the competition caution at lap 15, which NASCAR threw because of heavy rain that delayed the start of the race by nearly two hours, Newman told crew chief Tony Gibson that his No. 39 Chevy was tight in the center of turn one and loose off turn three.
Newman came down pit road under that competition caution for four tires, fuel and air pressure and track bar adjustments. He restarted the race in 19th-place.
Unfortunately, the initial changes on pit road didn't help Newman's handling issues. He told his crew that he was struggling for grip, and that his racecar was still really loose in turn three. By lap 33, Newman told his crew that the car was "just really ugly."
Despite his driver's difficulties with the handling, Gibson told Newman to hang in there and that they would soon have another chance to work on the car. That opportunity came at lap 47 when Newman pitted under the green flag. The No. 39 pit crew changed four tires, added fuel and made a variety of track bar, wedge and air pressure adjustments. Newman returned to the track in 19th.
Again, the changes failed to give Newman the feel he was looking for in his racecar. He told Gibson that the car was still way too loose, especially in turn three.
Despite the team's obvious disappointment in the way their car was handling and their position on the racetrack, Gibson and Newman continued a running dialogue about what changes they could make on pit road to help improve the racecar. And with each opportunity, the team tried a variety of chassis adjustments in hopes of hitting on just the right series of tweaks to make the car more comfortable at each corner of the circuit.
By lap 95, it seemed that the team had hit on something. Though he was mired deep in the field and fighting to find clean air, Newman was turning times as quick as those in the top-10. The Haas Automation team hoped that a caution flag at lap 95 would give them the chance to do some extensive work on the car on pit road, potentially breathing new life into their effort.
Under caution, Newman pitted for four tires and fuel. The team also placed a spring rubber in the left rear in hopes of snugging up Newman's loose-handling racecar. He returned to the track in 21st, but the changes failed to make a big difference, for Newman was still battling a tight-handling racecar in turn one and a loose-handling racecar in turns two and three.
With the No. 39 machine not handling or making up ground on the field, Gibson opted to roll the dice and make a fuel mileage gamble. At lap 164, Newman came down pit road under caution for fuel only. Gibson instructed his driver to save fuel as they were going to attempt to go the remaining distance of the race without stopping again. Three drivers in front of Newman and all of the cars behind the No. 39 came down pit road with the same strategy.
Newman restarted in 23rd at lap 165. However, many of the drivers in front of him would still need to get fuel to make it to the checkered flag. Just one lap later, the caution waved again, and the remaining teams pitted for fuel. As a result, Newman moved up to sixth-place.
Newman was able to stay in the top-10 for the next 15 laps, but the cars behind him were too strong. He had fallen to 18th-place when the caution flag flew for the final time at lap 200, setting up a green-white-checkered finish. Rather than gamble on fuel anymore than they already had, Newman came down pit road for right-side tires and gas, which put him in 22nd for the restart at lap 202.
On the last lap of the race, Newman narrowly avoided being collected in a multi-car pileup that sent Kasey Kahne flying in the air before crashing on the hoods of Mark Martin and Greg Biffle. The incident happened just a few cars in front of Newman, who was forced down into the grass to avoid incurring heavy damage. Newman slid through the grass and back onto the track, blowing his left front tire and sending the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevy hard into the turn three wall.
Despite the flattened right side of the car and the blown tire, Newman was able to limp down the long front straightaway to take the checkered flag in 14th position.
Teammate Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala for SHR, finished third. It was Stewart's eighth top-five and 17th top-10 finish at the 2.5-mile triangle, and his second top-five and fifth top-10 finish this season.
Denny Hamlin won the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 to score his 12th career Sprint Cup victory, his fourth of the season and his fourth at Pocono. Kyle Busch finished in the runner-up spot, while Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-five. Kurt Busch, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer and A.J. Allmendinger comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 27 laps, with 13 drivers failing to finish the 204-lap race, which was extended four laps beyond its originally scheduled distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.
With round 14 of 36 complete, Stewart is now 13th in the Sprint Cup championship standing. He gained three spots and now has 1,685 points. He is 378 markers behind series leader Harvick and just one point behind 12th-place Bowyer, who currently holds the final spot in the 12-driver Chase for the Championship with 12 races remaining before the Chase begins. Newman lost two positions to fall to 14th in the standings. He has 1,668 points and is 395 points back of series leader Harvick, but only 18 points outside the top-12.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the June 13th Heluva Good Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.