Newman Leads Stewart-Haas Charge In Loudon
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
Loudon, NH – Finishing second never felt so good to Tony Stewart.
The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and owner-driver followed teammate and employee Ryan Newman across the finish line in Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the Stewart Haas Racing duo finishing exactly the way they started the race.
“That was a perfect weekend for this organization,’’ a grinning Stewart said. “Ryan and I on the front row (in qualifying) and now 1-2 in the race. We just need a day where we didn’t have something stupid go wrong and it happened for both of us today.’’
Newman’s first Cup victory since Phoenix in April, 2010, did not come easy.
He made his final pit stop on lap 217 – 84 laps from the end – and had to squeeze every drop of fuel out of his No. 39 Chevrolet on the way to his 14th Cup victory.
Over the last 50 laps, Newman had to balance keeping his foot in the gas just enough to hold off the drivers chasing him with conserving enough fuel to finish. He ran out of gas on the way to Victory Circle.
“I knew I was doing a good job of saving fuel, which is not easy to do,’’ Newman said. “The saving grace that we had was we had a good race car, we were able to pull out to a lead and
we were able to maintain that lead.’’
While Newman was trying to make it to the finish, Stewart, whose last pit stop came seven laps later than Newman’s, was charging through the field with plenty of gas and just trying to get to the front. He finally moved up to second place nine laps from the end.
At that point, he had no idea if Newman had enough gas to make it to lap 301.
“It definitely was a big risk and I didn’t know what his fuel situation was,’’ Stewart said. “But this is a pretty easy track to save fuel on. I knew he was probably trying to save fuel but by the time I got to second, I was just too far back to take a run at him.’’
Newman, who won a modified race from the pole here Saturday, moved up one spot to eighth in theCup standings, vaulting past Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 15th after being penalized for a pit box violation. Stewart moved into a tie with third-place finished Denny Hamlin for 10th place in the points, but remained 11th in the competition for a spot in the 12-man Chase for the championship because Hamlin has a win and Stewart is winless in 2011.
Asked about the race for the Chase with seven races left in the regular season, Newman said, “This puts us in a lot better position, that’s for sure.’’
“From my standpoint it was just a great day,’’ he said. “We back up what everybody said we couldn’t back up, winning the pole on Friday. We put it on ‘em today. We don’t do that every day so we have to relish this position and try to figure out how to keep doing it.’’
It is the first time since the 1989 Daytona 500 that teammates have started on the front row and finished 1-2. Darrell Waltrip started second and finished first, while Hendrick Motorsports teammate Ken Schrader started from the pole and finished second.
With drivers running out of fuel all over the one-mile track on the last couple of laps, Joey Logano held on for fourth and five-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson came back from a late-race spin to finish fifth.
Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex Jr., Marcos Ambrose and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10.
Jeff Gordon, who appeared to have the fastest car on the track much of the day, fell all the
way from fourth to 11th on the final lap because of a flat tire.
Carl Edwards finished 13th but grabbed the series points lead, thanks to former leader Kyle Busch, who blew a tire early in the race and wound up 36th. Busch fell all the way to fifth in the standings, with Johnson moving to second, Kurt Busch to third and Kevin Harvick to fourth. All of them are bunched within 20 points.
It was a chaotic race, with 10 cautions for 44 laps scrambling things up. But Newman was consistently at or near the front all day. He led a race-high 119 of the 301 laps, including the final 72.
Temperatures in the low 90s Sunday didn’t make it easy on the drivers either.
Stewart made it even harder on himself by driving in a sprint car race at his own track in Eldora, Ohio Saturday night.
“I flew back here and got to sleep at 5:30 (a.m.) and slept until 8 o’clock,’’ he explained. “But I’m in good shape, so it’s no problem, and this just feels really good right now.’’
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment