Posted: 08 May 2011 05:05 PM PDT
Photo by Geoff Burke - Getty Images for NASCAR
After being embroiled in controversy during the past week, Ryan Newman put all the conflict behind him and let his driving do the talking by finishing fifth in Saturday night’s Showtime Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. It was Newman’s second top-five and third top-10 finish in the past three races at Darlington with his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team.
“I’m really proud of all of the guys on the Tornados Chevrolet,” said Newman, who now has seven top-five finishes at Darlington in 13 career starts. “We battled some crazy conditions today. We went from being extremely loose to extremely tight, and we were really scratching our heads. We just really struggled with the racecar and then we finally hit on something and just decided to leave it and take what came to us.
“It was a big rebound for us during the race to finish fifth, but it was an even bigger rebound from the past few races and from everything that has gone on this past week and, now, going into this long stretch of races. It was a good night for us, and a nice job by (crew chief) Tony Gibson and the guys by not giving up.”
Rain at Darlington on Friday meant that Newman & Company didn’t have a lot of practice in their Tornados Chevrolet before the drop of the green flag. But after qualifying second, the No. 39 team felt it had a strong machine for Saturday night’s race. However, an ill-handling racecar plagued Newman for much of the 370-lap race.
After just a handful of laps, Newman told his team his car was a little too free. Despite the loose-handling condition, Newman was able to move into the lead on lap 10. Newman held onto the top spot until lap 37, when the team pitted for the first time under caution.
The crew changed four tires, added fuel and made track-bar and air-pressure adjustments to help Newman, who said he was especially loose and losing speed in turns one and two. Unfortunately, Newman rolled the No. 39 machine forward in his pit box, which slowed the stop and cost the team its top spot. Newman returned to the track for the lap-41 restart in seventh place.
As it turned out, the adjustments didn’t aid Newman and his No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet’s handling issues. By lap 50, Newman told Gibson he was “way looser than before.” The loose-handling issue caused Newman to drop to 10th place before the team had the chance to pit under caution again on lap 73.
During the caution, Newman pitted so the crew could make major adjustments in hopes of improving the car. The crew changed four tires, added fuel, and made track-bar, wedge and air-pressure adjustments. Newman restarted in 13th place.
The frustrations over the handling of his racecar continued for Newman over the next 100-plus laps. The No. 39 Chevrolet went from being extremely loose to the tightest the racecar had been all weekend while Newman fell to as low as 17th on the leaderboard.
Newman called his racecar “edgy,” and even told Gibson he was “lost” as to what changes needed to be made. But one thing was certain in his eyes – “We have got to change something big when we get a caution,” Newman told his crew at lap 180.
When the caution flag waved on lap 222, Newman’s crew finally got the chance to make the big change it needed. The No. 39 pitted for four tires and fuel, and the pit crew added half a spring rubber to the right rear and made an air-pressure adjustment. Newman returned to the track in 15th place for the restart on lap 225.
Within five laps, Newman told his crew, “this is the best we’ve been.” Seven laps later, Newman moved back into the top-10. For the first time during the race, the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet seemed to respond well to the crew’s adjustments – so much so that Newman told the crew not to make any changes during its next stop on lap 281.
Although the team didn’t make any changes to the racecar, the crew didn’t get the No. 39 Chevrolet full of fuel, which meant Newman would have to pit sooner than the rest of the field the next time around. Newman returned to the racetrack in eighth place, which he had to give up on lap 320 when he was forced to pit for fuel.
Newman got four fresh tires and fuel and fell to 22nd, one lap down to the leaders. Luckily for Newman, the rest of the field also had to pit under green and, once all the cars cycled through their stops by lap 339, Newman was solidly in fourth place.
However, two late caution flags shook up the running order. Under caution at lap 357, Newman and Gibson debated their strategy. Noting that they wanted track position, the No. 39 team opted to pit for right-side tires only. With three cars staying on track, Newman restarted in eighth place. Newman was able to move up one spot to seventh before the caution flag waved on lap 363, which set up a green-white-checkered finish.
With two laps remaining, Newman wasted no time making his move and quickly gained two spots to finish fifth.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for SHR, finished seventh at the 1.366-mile oval.
Both drivers led laps in the Showtime Southern 500, with Newman pacing the field for 28 laps and Stewart on point for six laps. The duo’s Darlington effort marked the second time this season that both SHR drivers have finished in the top-10. The last time came seven races ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, when Stewart finished second and Newman finished fifth.
Regan Smith won the Showtime Southern 500 to score his first career Sprint Cup victory.
Championship point leader Carl Edwards finished .196 of a second behind Smith in the runner-up spot, while Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne and Newman rounded out the top-five. Denny Hamlin, Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex Jr., comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 46 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 370-lap race, which was extended beyond its scheduled 367-lap distance by the green-white-checkered finish.
With round 10 of 36 complete, Newman improved two positions to jump to sixth in the Sprint Cup championship standings. He now has 317 points and is 61 markers behind Edwards. Stewart improved three positions to climb to seventh in the standings. He has 313 points and is 65 markers back of Edwards.
The next race on the Sprint Cup schedule is the May 15 FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 12:30 p.m.