Posted: 20 Mar 2011 05:43 PM PDT
For Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Tornados team, the short tracks of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have been a strong suit over the past two seasons as they have consistently posted solid performances on tracks less than a mile in length. Sunday afternoon’s Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway was no exception for Newman as he earned a 10th-place finish.
It was Newman and the No. 39 Tornados team’s third consecutive top-10 finish of the 2011 season and the No. 39 team’s fourth top-10 in five starts at the Bristol bullring.
“I think our Tornados Chevrolet was probably better than where we finished today,” said Newman, who earned his 11th top-10 in 19 starts at Bristol. “We fought getting loose during the course of a run almost all day and then, at the end of the race, we just got way too tight. I’m not really sure why that happened or what caused that, but all in all it was another good top-10 finish for our team and another good points day for us. We got kind of behind, there, on our qualifying. But we worked really hard on Saturday and got the car right for the race today and we were in the mix, there, most of the day. I’m just really proud of the entire Tornados team today and how we have started this season.”
Newman started Sunday afternoon’s race 21st in the 43-car field after what he and crew chief Tony Gibson called a disappointing qualifying effort. However, after two practices on Saturday, the driver-crew chief duo was confident it had found the right balance to help the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet move through the field.
When the first caution of the afternoon waved on lap 27, Newman told Gibson his car was a little too tight in the center but that his biggest problem was being mired in traffic in 18th place. Soon after, the caution flag waved at lap 50 for a NASCAR-mandated competition caution to check for excessive tire wear.
Under the yellow flag, Newman told Gibson not to touch the car as it was “pretty good.” Newman also wanted to see how the car would react to tires as the race continued. So, Gibson opted to help his driver gain the valuable track position by changing right-side tires only, adding fuel and making an air-pressure adjustment. The two-tire strategy helped Newman return to the track for the lap-56 restart in fourth place.
Two laps later, Newman took over the lead, where he stayed for 26 circuits before turning it over to eventual race-winner Kyle Busch on lap 83. Although Newman gave up the lead, he was able to maintain a spot in the top-five until the caution waved once again on lap 128.
Under caution, Newman told Gibson his car was still a little tight in the center. For the second time, Newman asked Gibson not to make any changes to the chassis of the Tornados Chevy, so the team opted for four fresh tires, an air-pressure adjustment and fuel. Newman returned to the track in sixth place for the restart on lap 136.
Unfortunately, the changes weren’t quite what Newman and his No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet needed. Instead, Newman’s car now had the opposite problem as it was too loose. As the run progressed, Newman continued to get looser, which caused him to lose several spots. By lap 200, Newman had dropped six positions back to 12th place and was finding it difficult to hold onto a spot in the top-15.
When the caution came out at lap 246, Newman was running in 13th place. Newman brought the Tornados Chevy to the pit crew’s attention for four tires, fuel, an air-pressure adjustment and a wedge adjustment in hopes of improving the car’s balance. Newman returned to the track in 13th place for the restart on lap 252.
Thanks to the changes, the No. 39 machine seemed to take off when the race restarted. Newman picked up three spots and was back in the top-10 by lap 265. However, once again his car began to get loose during the green-flag run causing him to drop back through the field.
Another caution at lap 344, afforded the Tornados team another opportunity to work on the No. 39 machine’s loose-handling issues. Newman told his crew the changes during the last pit stop were all positive changes, but they just didn’t quite go far enough. Once again, Gibson called for four tires, fuel and air-pressure and wedge adjustments.
With 150 laps remaining in the race, Newman restarted in 12th place. Once again, he was able to get a solid restart and, within five laps, the No. 39 had moved into the top-10.
By lap 400, Newman, who was running in ninth place, told his crew that the car had gotten too loose, once again. Crew chief Gibson told his driver that his car was one of the faster cars on the racetrack when he didn’t have to overcorrect for the car’s loose condition. The team planned on making wedge and air-pressure adjustments to help correct the car’s handling at the next opportunity.
Newman pitted under caution for the final time on lap 428, and the crew continued to adjust on the No. 39 Chevy with wedge and air-pressure adjustments, along with four fresh tires and fuel. Newman returned to the track in ninth place.
Typical of the Bristol short track, the final 50 laps had a rash of cautions and restarts. Newman was able to avoid getting caught up in the myriad of crashes and maintain his top-10 run. In the end, Newman was able to hold off several hard-charging cars with fresh tires and finished 10th.
Newman’s SHR teammate Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala, finished 19th.
Kyle Busch won the Jeff Byrd 500 to score his 20th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his fifth at Bristol. Busch has won five consecutive NASCAR events at Bristol. He won yesterday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race and last August swept the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races.
Carl Edwards finished .946 of a second behind Busch in the runner-up spot, while Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Paul Menard rounded out the top-five. Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 57 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.
With round four of 36 complete, Stewart and Newman are tied for third in the Sprint Cup championship point standings. Each driver has 138 points and is 12 markers back of leader Kurt Busch.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the March 27 Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where Stewart is the series’ most recent winner. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m.